The Help – A Movie Review

The Help PosterSet in Jackson, Mississippi during the time of civil rights activism in the 1960s, The Help is the story of a young, college-educated, white woman, named Skeeter, and her attempt to write a book about life in Jackson from the perspective of the Afro-American maids who worked in white houses. To do so, Skeeter must carefully interview a large number of maids without their white employers finding out. Being part of the white establishment of housewives and housewives-to-be herself, Skeeter is in a unique position to examine both sides of the sad reality of discrimination.

I really enjoyed watching this movie on a number of levels. First, it brought forth the issue of discrimination in a time that was actually not that long ago – only a decade before I was born. Through the writing and excellent acting, we see how discrimination was actually not such a simple issue, but rather there were different levels of understanding and ignorance amongst the white people involved. And of course, we can see firsthand how it was part of the cultural practices of the agricultural South.

Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter PhotoI also liked the way feminist issues were raised in the movie, and how the protagonist, Skeeter, being a single, young, educated woman whose aspirations were to become a great writer, had to confront so many obstacles from her peer group, family, employer, etc. because she didn’t fit the mold of what a “good Southern belle” should be. Even when she goes to get a job at the local newspaper, the editor gives her the task of writing a domestic advice column, something she knows nothing about (of course). And when her friend tries to set her up with a boyfriend, the young man accuses her of taking the job to attract a good husband, much to her dismay. Of course, it’s doing the research for the advice column that gets her interviewing the maids in the first place….

Southern White Women and Black Maids ImageMy only criticism of the movie is that it perhaps doesn’t go far enough in depicting what certainly must have been a more violent, abusive, hateful reality for black women working in white homes. I can only imagine what atrocities must have occurred. While the movie hints at some of these things, like the feeling of ‘ownership’, and the physical and mental abuse that took place, it doesn’t actually depict these things in scenes. I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know what it contained, but I can say that the director chose to create an emotional, touching film, with a number of humorous scenes and an uplifting, somewhat predictable ending. It could have been depicted much more harshly, or rawly. Or maybe it could have had a surprise ending with a twist. I wonder what black women who actually served as maids in that time period would have to say about it.

Nevertheless, I was thoroughly engaged and entertained during the movie, several scenes bringing me to laughter and others almost to tears. I give this movie 8 out of 10 stars, and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about life in that time and place, especially concerning the life of women, both white and black.

And the acting was superb: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain, all did fantastic jobs! I particularly liked Chastain’s character Ms. Celia, whose social awkwardness, yet caring heart, was so well portrayed. I also enjoyed Spencer’s performance of Minny, whose facial expressions, body language, and black southern dialect really brought the character to life.

Check out The Help at IMDB. Or watch the trailer below: