‘The Help’ reveals a dark side of social justice
Sometimes I just have to clap at the end of a film in a movie theater. I did that one recent Saturday at the end of the showing of “The Help,” and it started a modest clapping by others at a Harkins theater in Chandler. You just have to clap when insidious human practices are so wonderfully exposed. Blatant racism of the Old South is showcased.
“The Help,” which has finished three weeks in a row at the top of film ticket receipts, demonstrates why movies are made, why they need to be made. Films on social themes are crucial, especially when they reveal injustices. “The Help” addresses a powerful theme of shameless racism and entrenched segregation in Mississippi during the 1960s. The film examines the culture of Deep South life through the eyes of black maids and housekeepers, who were exploited, mistreated, marginalized and used and abused as low-paid labor. The film features actress Emma Stone as Skeeter, a new University of Mississippi graduate, who talks her way into getting a gig writing a household hints column for the newspaper in the capital city of Jackson. She finds herself inadequate to do the column so she follows her instinct to get answers to household tasks from a veteran a black maid/cook/nanny (Viola Davis). Skeeter’s journalistic instinct leads her to want to tell the stories of the housekeepers, who raise many children in a lifetime of moving from home to home. In reality, they provided the real parenting the country-club, junior-league mothers failed to give. Skeeter holds wonderful memories of the black maid of her own gentry upbringing, played by Cicely Tyson, who was abruptly fired after decades after her daughter showed up at an inopportune time when the Skeeter’s mother was entertaining a national women’s club leader.
Skeeter’s publisher told her she wouldn’t publish the book of stories until she has captured the stories of a dozen or more black housekeepers. Through great persuasion and under-the-radar work, Skeeter brings more women into the clandestine storytelling project and gathers the stories from housekeepers – how they have been exploited and discriminated against and denied help in critical moments. Gentry class greed and insensitivity prevail. For me, the major moment came when the preacher of a black church calls on the congregation to have courage and not shrink in the moment of doubt. The call for courage rang loud and clear for anyone who felt a need to expose wrong-doing and social injustice.
Many Hollywood continue to make films like “The Help” that expose the hidden sides of human activities and interactions.