By Jueseppi B.
I love Melisa Harris-Perry, and I watched her new show on MSNBC for the first time this morning. I was very disappointed. Not in Ms. Harris- Perry or her having this brand new show, but in her subject matter. Ms. Harris-Perry and her guest panel discussed the movie The Help, and they trashed the movie based on it’s lack of historical accuracy. I just saw this film, and totally disagree with all of the panelist.
There comes a time when people have to differentiate between fact, fiction, a serious film with historical content and a movie that entertains. There is no human more militant or aware of oppression and racism than I, but I didn’t see this movie as a slap in the face to the civil rights movement or the enslavement of a Black workforce. I saw it as entertainment.
I think having a sexy, intelligent, educated Black professor hosting a TV show on the MSNBC network is highly acceptable and necessary in 2012, and I am thrilled for Ms. Harris-Perry. The part I don’t like is when we as Black Americans take every movie or film created about the civil rights movement as historical fact. And therein lies the fact about this movie The Help…it is NOT about the civil rights movement, it is a fictional movie written about a section of domestic help in a fictional setting.
I suggest you go see The Help, then form your own opinion.
The Help is a 2011 drama film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett‘s novel of the same name. The film is an ensemble piece about a young white woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, and her relationship with two black maids during Civil Rights era America in the early 1960s. Skeeter is a journalist who decides to write a controversial book from the point of view of the maids (known as the Help), exposing the racism they are faced with as they work for white families.
The film takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, and stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Mike Vogel, Mary Steenburgen, and Allison Janney. The Help opened to positive reviews and became a massive box office success with a gross of $206.7 million against its budget of $25 million. In January 2012, the film received four Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture and acting nods for Davis, Chastain and Spencer. On January 29, 2012, The Help won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
If you choose to see this movie, and don’t want to know the plot, skip this next section, because I am going to tell you the plot right now.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is a middle-aged black maid who has spent her life raising white children and has recently lost her only son. Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is another black maid whose outspokenness has gotten her fired many times and built up a reputation for being a difficult employee, but she makes up for this with her phenomenal cooking skills.
Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) is a young white woman who has recently moved back home to her family’s plantation after graduating from the University of Mississippi to find that her beloved childhood maid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), has quit while she was away. Skeeter is skeptical because she believes Constantine would have written to her.
Unlike her friends who attended university to find husbands, Skeeter finds her friends are all married and having children, while she is single, has a degree and wants to begin a career as a writer. Her first job is as a “homemaker hints” columnist in the local paper, and she asks Aibileen, the maid to her good friend Elizabeth, for her help in answering domestic questions.
Skeeter becomes uncomfortable with the attitude her friends have towards their “help,” especially Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her “Home Help Sanitation Initiative,” a proposed bill to provide for separate bathrooms for black help because she believes that ‘they’ [black people] carry different diseases to ‘us’ [white people]. Amidst the era of discrimination based on color, Skeeter is one of the few who believe otherwise, and she decides to write a book, The Help, based on the lives of the maids who have spent their entire lives taking care of white children.
The maids are at first reluctant to talk to Skeeter, because they are afraid that they will lose their jobs or worse. Aibileen is the first to share her stories after she overhears Hilly’s initiative and realizes that the children whom she has been raising are growing up to be just like their parents. Her friend, Minny, has just been fired as Hilly’s maid for using their bathroom during a tornado storm instead of going to use the separate outdoor toilet.
Hilly poisons all the other families against Minny making it impossible for her to find other work, and her daughter is forced to drop out of school to find a job as a maid. Minny initially declines to participate in Skeeter’s book but later agrees to share her stories as well. Aibileen helps her find work with Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who is married to a rich socialite (Mike Vogel), but is an outcast from the other society ladies due to the fact she was born into a working class family and her husband is Hilly’s ex boyfriend. Also unlike Hilly, Celia seems to treat Minny with far more respect.
Skeeter writes a draft of the story with Minny and Aibileen’s stories in it and sends it to Miss Stein (Mary Steenburgen), an editor for Harper Row, in New York, who thinks there may be some interest in it, but requires at least a dozen more maids’ contributions before it can become a viable book. Believing that the book will only be publishable during the Civil Rights movement, which she likewise believes is a passing fad, Stein advises Skeeter to finish the book soon.
No one comes forward until after Medgar Evers is assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi, and until after having witnessed Hilly’s latest maid’s brutal arrest (for attempting to pawn one of Hilly’s essentially worthless rings to pay for her twins’ college tuition, after Hilly had refused to give her a loan) – with racial tensions running high, the maids realize that Skeeter’s book will give them an opportunity for their voices to be heard, and Skeeter suddenly has numerous stories to include. Minny shares one last story with Skeeter and Aibileen, which she calls the “Terrible Awful,” to ensure that no one will reveal that the book was written about Jackson, Mississippi.
As revenge for being fired and accused of stealing, Minny bakes a chocolate pie and delivers it to Hilly. After Hilly has finished two slices, Minny informs her that she has baked her own feces into the pie. Minny tells Aibilene and Skeeter that if they add that part into the book, Hilly will try to prevent anyone from figuring out that she made her eat human feces and will convince the town that the book is not about Jackson. The book is almost finished except for Skeeter’s own story of being brought up by Constantine.
Skeeter manages to find out what happened to Constantine when her mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney), finally explains that she fired her in order to save face during a reception. Afterwards feeling guilty about it, Charlotte sends Skeeter’s brother to bring Constantine home from Chicago where she is living with her daughter Rachel, but he discovered that she had died not long after leaving Jackson.
The book is accepted for publication and is a success, much to the delight of Skeeter and the maids. She shares her royalties with each of the maids who contributed, and is offered a job with a publishing company in New York. She tells her boyfriend about the job and the book, and he immediately breaks up with her. Later in the afternoon, Hilly hatches a plan to get rid of Aibileen as Elizabeth’s help, by falsely accusing her of stealing silver while arranging it for meetings.
As Aibileen tries to convince Hilly and Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly) of her innocence, Elizabeth’s daughter, Mae Mobley, arrives and jumps on top of her, watching Aibileen being fired. Aibileen denounces Hilly as a godless woman and tells her that she will never have peace if she continues her vindictive ways and leaves her in limbo. Elizabeth is forced to accept the unacceptable firing of Aibileen, and Mae Mobley cries by the window shouting for Aibileen, as the maid leaves to start her own life. And Skeeter leaves Jackson to start her new life as a writer in New York.
- Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a college graduate and aspiring writer.
- Lila Rogers as Young Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
- Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, a black maid and Skeeter’s good friend
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook, the town racist and snooty ringleader.
- Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, a maid with a smart mouth which has gotten her fired a lot of times and is Aibileen’s best friend.
- Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, Minny’s naive employer and Johnny’s wife.
- Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt, Aibileen’s employer.
- Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Skeeter’s mother.
- Anna Camp as Jolene French
- Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend and a senator’s son.
- Cicely Tyson as Constantine Bates
- Emma and Eleanor Henry as Mae Mobley Leefolt
- Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote, Hilly’s ex-boyfriend and Celia’s husband.
- Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters, Hilly’s mother.
- Brian Kerwin as Robert Phelan, Skeeter’s father
- Aunjanue Ellis as Yule May Davis, a maid fired by Hilly for pawning a ring she found in Holbrook house to pay for her children’s education
- Leslie Jordan as Mr. Blackly
- Mary Steenburgen as Elaine Stein
- Nelsan Ellis as Henry, the waiter
- David Oyelowo as Preacher Green
- Dana Ivey as Grace Higginbotham
- Ashley Johnson as Mary Beth Caldwell
In December 2009, Variety reported that Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe would produce a film adaptation of The Help, under their production company 1492 Productions. Brunson Green of Harbinger Productions also co-produced. The film was written and directed by Stockett’s childhood friend, Tate Taylor, who optioned film rights to the book before its release.
The first casting news for the production came in March 2010, was reported that Emma Stone was attached to play the role of Skeeter Phelan. Other actors were since cast, including Viola Davis as Aibileen; Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook, Jackson’s snooty town ringleader; Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Skeeter’s mother; and Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend and a senator’s son. Leslie Jordan appears as the editor of the fictional local newspaper, The Jackson Journal. Mike Vogel plays the character Johnny Foote. Octavia Spencer portrays Minny. A longtime friend of Stockett and Taylor, Spencer inspired the character of Minny in Stockett’s novel and voiced her in the audiobook version.
Filming of The Help began in July 2010 and extended through October. The town of Greenwood, Mississippi was chosen to portray 1960s-era Jackson, and producer Brunson Green said he had expected to shoot “95 percent” of the movie there. Parts of the film were also shot in the real-life Jackson, as well as in nearby Clarksdale and Greenville.
One of the few locations that existed in 1963 Jackson, the book and the movie is Jackson landmark Brent’s Drugs, which dates to 1946. Other locations that can still be found in Jackson include the New Capitol Building and the Mayflower Cafe downtown. Scenes set at the Jackson Journal office were shot in Clarksdale at the building which formerly housed the Clarksdale Press Register for 40 years until April 2010.
The Help was the most significant film production in Mississippi since 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? “Honestly, my heart would be broken if it were set anywhere but Mississippi”, Stockett wrote in an e-mail to reporters. In order to convince producers to shoot in Greenwood, Tate Taylor and others had previously come to the town and scouted out locations; at his first meeting with DreamWorks executives, he presented them with a photo album of potential filming spots in the area. The state’s tax incentive program for filmmakers was also a key enticement in the decision.
On October 13, 2010, Touchstone Pictures and DreamWorks gave the film a release date of August 12, 2011. On July 5, 2011, the film’s release date was rescheduled two days earlier to August 10, 2011.
The Help has grossed $169,674,739 in North America, and $37,029,260 in other territories, as of February 23, 2012, for a worldwide total of $206,703,999.
My suggestion to you would be to see the movie, with an open mind knowing that The Help is entertainment, and NOT historical fact such as was the case with the film RedTails. I also would point out that this movie gave employment to many people of color, in an industry that still regulates people of color to second class status when it comes to choosing Black actors to play roles in film. Butter up the popcorn and join me in the balcony.
- Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer Celebrate The Help With Essence (popsugar.com)
- ‘The Help’ Is an Elegantly Profound Crowdpleaser (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Oscar Madness: The Help (ten21ten.wordpress.com)