Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Help

On Thursday night my daughter, Hannah, and I set out to see the movie, “The Smurfs” at the Andover Theater. As we were standing in line I saw that “The Help” was playing at the same time. I read "The Help" with my on-line book club and have wanted to watch it ever since it came out. After seeing the movie was rated PG-13 and being convinced that there weren’t too many inappropriate scenes, I convinced Hannah to watch it with me. The movie was based on a book written by Kathryn Stockett.

As soon as I walked into the theater I noticed that many women were sitting together in groups. Obviously some book clubs were taking a night out to see “The Help” together.

The main plot revolved around the successful attempt by Skeeter to write a book detailing the stories of the African-American servants working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s.

Three women are the primary characters. Skeeter is a young woman who came home to Jackson after graduating from college. She befriends Aibileen, an African-American woman who cleans houses and lovingly cares for the white children of those houses. Aibileen’s best friend is Minny—a more confrontational woman who can’t help but tell her white employers what she thinks of them.

Issues of race, power, sexism and the implications of segregation permeate the “The Help.” The movie shares how each character is marred by the system of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. Skeeter is treated coldly by her female friends because she’s more interested in being a writer than getting married. Aibileen has always wanted to be more than a maid, but she was born into a family where her grandmother and mother were maids. She writes a hour every night, but it’s almost impossible for her gifts to help her transcend her fate. Minny tells the truth and suffers the consequences from a system that isn’t interested in her views.

My favorite character was Celia—a white woman who lived in the country. She hired Minny after Minny couldn’t keep a job. Celia was shunned by the young woman of Jackson. She needed Minny to teach her how to cook and care for her house. Celia was so scared by her thoughts of how her husband would respond to the hiring of Minny that she kept it a secret.

My heart went out to Celia. She didn’t fit in with a culture that primarily valued women for their ability to keep house and have babies. She wanted to bond with her friends—but they scorned her with an ugliness that can only be called sin

I didn’t need a scorecard to know the heroes and the villains of the movie. This wasn’t a nuanced description of segregation. There was no middle-ground.

I’m glad Hannah watched “The Help” with me. It gave us a chance to leave a world that values Facebook and brand clothes to talk about issues that really matter. There was something at stake in what happened in the movie. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny didn’t change the world, but they shared stories that illustrated the ugliness of their age. Their courage transcends time.

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