THE HELP (2011)

TMG Scale 10.0
Starring Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson

We are talking sweep of Oscars here. Best Movie, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress etc. etc.

It is Jackson, Mississippi in early 1960’s.  A young society girl, Skeeter Phelan (Stone) returns from college with a whole new point of view and outlook on life and the “Colored Women” who raised her and her friends. She takes a small job at a local paper but it only covers for her desire to be a real writer and tell a real story—and boy does she ever.  She sees the gross inequities and terrible treatment colored women in her community (referred to as colored, negro or worse back then) are relegated to even though such wonderful and loving women raised her and her friends.  The civil rights movement is about to explode and the deep south just has not come to its senses yet.

Skeeter decides to write these women’s stories—if she can get them to talk.  Many fear for their very lives in this small Mississippi town. Abilene, Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, decides the time has come. Eventually, Abilene’s fellow women spill it all, and they have a great deal of dirt to spill and spread, and Skeeter writes up every word.  Skeeter’s former friends grow suspicious,  but no one really knows until the book is finally published and sh-t literally fills the pies and hits the fans.

I do not wish to spoil this movie for anyone. Just go see it. Do not read reviews about it. Everyone in my theatre applauded when it ended. Many were in tears. Not tears of hate or resentment though.  My theatre was much as one fourth Black attendees. I felt a true sense of love and pride that we had a all (well most of us anyway) had all moved on past this terrible time in our past. I really wanted to hug the first Black woman I saw and just tell her how sorry I was for my race. While racism still exists, and I have certainly been enlightened and felt it first hand with my best friend Charles one night in Alabama, it is good that we never forget. But it is better to cherish that most of us have moved on. Better we now celebrate the fact that we have moved on, rather  than to exploit the past like the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons and Rev. Wrights of the world relish doing.

I must admit I was turned off a bit at first having to watch a little girl urinate in the first five minutes of the film. Hollywood just loves toilets and urine. If you have read my reviews on the last ten rom-coms, you know TMG is sick and tired of gratuitous urination in films.  For better or worse, at least it had some meaning as we find this issue relevant as many Black women were not allowed to use the same indoor toilets as their employers.  The sound quality was also poor, so no Oscar for that category.  I was a bit skeptical that this movie was going to trash white people as all racists and bigots. It was also a bit hard to believe some women could really be so awful and cruel to Black women—especially those they totally entrusted with the care for their children.  And while I believe such was a valid portrayal and not uncommon, it was certainly not the prevalent relationship—even in the deep south. I was happy to see the writer and Director took a keen, but just slightly lopsided imbalance to prove the important, albeit obvious points.

The Help was just an incredibly touching and funny film on so many levels. I do it no favor by raving on about there performance by the Black actresses in this film. Their work is better cherished directly in the theatre. I would say Cicely Tyson’s brief but commanding performance moved me emotionally beyond words.

My own mother had Black maids growing up in Kansas City. One, Maddie, still worked for my Grandfather when I was about 5 years old (same year, 1963). Maddie was beloved and cherished by my Mom and her family—possibly underpaid by today’s standards,  but not for the times.  Many women like Maddie, much as the Black women in this film, had worked for some families for decades, even generations. There was a good reason. These were the best jobs they could get and the families loved them and treated them with great respect. They were surrogate Moms.  So much that when my Mom became a bit feeble at age of 84, she implored me “Can you find a Black woman to help care for me? I just love Black women. They are so caring and kind.” We found Mimi who was just awesome. But in an ironic twist of history, after three years, we could no longer afford her. Understand, Mimi was worth ten times what we could pay her, but the economics had changed with the years.

I only hope and pray to this day that Maddie would have had a far different, brighter and more loving story to tell.

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