Monday, 7 January 2013


“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the weekend we watched the 2011 Tate Taylor movie “The Help”, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard. It was based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, with a screenplay by the film’s director, Tate Taylor. The film was excellent and despite its 146 minute run-time it kept us engaged and entertained the whole time we were watching it. It has its mix of pathos and humour, light-heartedness and poignancy, sadness and happiness. Not having read the novel, this review is limited to the movie, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The plot is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the tumultuous 1960s, when civil rights had become a burgeoning issue in the USA. Skeeter (Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from “Ole Miss” determined to become a writer, and begins by getting a job as a newspaper’s household hint columnist, a topic she knows nothing about. As she turns to the black housemaids for advice, she decides to interview these black women who have spent their lives taking care of the well-to-do southern families. Aibileen (Davis), Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to talk to Skeeter. This causes the dismay of Aibelene’s friends in the black community who are suspicious of Skeeter’s motives and afraid of repercussions. Skeeter places her childhood friendships on the line when she and Aibileen continue their collaboration. Several deplorable incidents involving the humiliation and victimisation of the black maids, cause more of them to come forward to tell their amazing and sad stories. Along the way, new alliances are made, old friendships are reviewed and new friendships forged.

This movie is a good example of how well a Hollywood movie can be made about an issue that is sensitive, controversial and quite thorny. It confronts and challenges the viewer, but at the same time it uses humour subtly, in order to relentlessly satirise and ridicule attitudes that caused so much misery and despair in the lives of so many people at those times. The humour is often scatological, but there is a good reason for this, given the whole issue regarding the use of separate toilets by the black and white people in the same households, which was quite a widely debated topic at that time and place.

The acting is excellent and Viola Davis shines forth in a magnificent performance as Aibeleen, the black maid. Octavia Spencer as Minny, another black maid, provides the right mix of humour and bravura, while Emma Stone, as Skeeter, puts in a good performance in what is a difficult role, one that could easily be sugar-coated. However, Stone’s performance is genuine and sensitive. Bryce Dallas Howard is great in her rendition of Hilly Holbrook, a social shark, displaying her full glory of ignorance, entitlement and superiority. Her minions and followers emulate her moves and adopt her views, hoping to gain her approval. The cinematography, costumes, hair and make-up are perfect in setting up the class differences and taking us back in time very successfully. The incidental TV and radio segments provide context and timing with the deaths of Medger Evers and JFK.

This is a film worth watching and it certainly motivated us to look for the book in order to read it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that this picture shows how a film can be made about an issue that is painful and controversial. Most films seem to have no political or ethical challenge to the viewer.

    Having said that, perhaps it is the viewer that isn't doing the challenging. What would happen if every time a cowboy shot an Indian in a film, or vice versa, every person in the cinema was horrified rather than numbed?