THE HELP: A MOVIE ABOUT RACISM
A Midnight Movie
I remember the first time I watch this film on television. It was past midnight and I can’t sleep no matter how hard I try. So what I did was turn on the television, took hold of the remote control and took my seat on the couch in front of it. Since our cable subscription was only limited, there were only a few channels available and most of them were either sports or cartoon channels. As I was browsing through the different channels, I came upon this movie. It has already started so I wasn’t able to catch the title. But since it’s the only movie suitable for my age (I was 45 at that time), I continued watching it. In no time, I was hooked to the story. I found it captivating, interesting, humorous, and heartbreaking all at the same time. I was glad that the end of the movie, they showed the title. I waited in anticipation for a rerun of the movie and when it did, boy, how I made sure that I will be able to watch it again from the start to finish.
The movie started in Aibileen being interviewed in her home by Skeeter. It was set in the old town of Jacksonville, Mississippi in the 1960s. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a fresh graduate of Ole Miss, returns home and accepted a job at the local paper answering questions in the weekly cleaning advice column in preparation for her dream of becoming a writer. Upon arriving home, she found out that Constantine, their family’s black help who raised her, is missing and no one in her family wants to say the reason why she had left or where she is now. Since she doesn’t know a thing about cleaning, she asked her friend Elizabeth’s permission if she can ask some help from her maid, Aibileen, to talk about the subject. From the start we can see that Skeeter is somewhat the outsider among her friends because of her being strong-willed and individualistic. Also, among her friends, she’s the only one left behind without a prospect for a husband. But then, she is more interested in becoming a writer than being a wife. In the short time that she spent with her friends, she notices how her friends, especially Hilly Holbrook, treat the black women who work as their maids. Hilly even tried to get a bill passed requiring Mississippi families to build toilets outside of their homes for their black employees, therefore banning them to use the family bathrooms. Somehow this did not sit well with Skeeter. She felt outrage on behalf of the maids, and disappointed. As she herself was also raised by their help whom she loves and adores deeply, she decided to write a book about the African-American maids on what they think or feel on the white families for which they work, the hardships and the humiliations they must endure every day just so they wouldn’t lose their job. Hence the question “Do you ever dream of becoming something else?” and “What does it feel like to raise a white child when your own child’s at home being looked after by somebody else?" at the start of the movie.
The help is the term white people call the black women in those days who are employed to tend to household chores like cleaning, cooking, and raising their children. They are often humiliated and treated rudely. Most of them are always on the receiving end to derogatory remarks and nasty comments on their failings at work and about their race, sometimes even hinting that colored people like them carry different diseases compared to their white counterparts. They were treated with discriminations and were belittled, with no cares about their feelings. As if being black alone is already a mortal sin. They have forgotten that these so-called helpers give to their children and their family as a whole the loyalty, patience, loyalty, and tender loving care that some of them were not able to provide to their families.
Aibileen (Davis), Elizabeth’s housekeeper, is the first to agree to tell her story. She met with Skeeter secretly in her house. She revealed to Skeeter that her mother was a maid and her grandmother was a slave, so she has accepted early on that she will also be a maid. Aibileen has raised 17 white children and now takes care and adores Mae Mobley, Elizabeth Leefolt’s daughter whom she neglects and despises because the little girl is not beautiful and somehow doesn’t fit in the society where superficial beauty reigns. The fear for the ongoing civil rights movement at that time, which aims to legalize racial discrimination or for blacks to have equal rights under the law in the United States, makes both Aibileen and Skeeter apprehensive of being caught meeting secretly. At first, Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s bestfriend who was the maid of Hilly Holbrook’s mother, was not agreeable to this. But after she was fired by Hilly because of using the family bathroom during a storm, she later on agreed to share her story.
Skeeter passed Aibileen’s story to her editor, Elaine Stein, who works for Harper & Row in New York City. Although it was good and intriguing, Ms. Stein told Skeeter that she have to add more stories, to interview more people, before her work is going to be published. So she told this dilemma to both Aibileen and Minny. But because the other maids were afraid of being found out by their employers and might lose their jobs, the others were anxious to contribute their stories. After one of them was brutally arrested after being accused of theft, other black maids came forward to their stories – and as it turns out, they also have a lot of their own stories and experiences to tell and were quickly absorbed in the process. Soon afterward, Minny found a new job where her employer by the name of Celia Foote treats her with respect and along with her husband Johnny, assured Minny of permanent job stability as long as she wants.
The book was published anonymously and became a hit which made Hilly furious especially about the part where a particular maid gave her former employer a chocolate pie but added her own feces. Following the success of the book, Skeeter was offered a job in New York. Aibileen was fired by Elizabeth because Hilly pressured her to do so in revenge for the help she gave to Skeeter in writing the book. Aibileen bids goodbye to Mae Mobley and reminded her of what she always is: That she is smart, kind, and important. Then as she leaves, she tells Elizabeth to give the child a chance.
The movie ends as Aibileen walks down the street toward the bus stop with a smile on her face thinking what her dead son has told her about having a writer in their family one day, and she’s decided it’s gonna be her.
The first thing that caught my attention when I first took a glimpse of this movie is the way the characters dressed up. It was like they were living in the 60’s or early 70’s. I was fascinated with their vintage outfit and the way the hair of the girls were made in style. I love those floral printed, full skirt and tight bodice dresses that are slightly above or at the knee hemline, especially those that are worn by Hilly and her friends.
The Help is a movie based on a novel written by Kathryn Stockett. I have not had the chance to read the book so I am basing this article solely on the movie. The Help was a 2011 historical period drama film which stars Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson. It was directed by Tate Taylor and was released worldwide by Touchstone Pictures. The movie received over a hundred award nominations and won 41 of those awards including Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, Best Movie from the BET Awards, and other awards and citations from different award giving bodies.