At the height of the civil rights movement, an aspiring author with good intentions seeks to write about the hardships of African American maids.
The Help (2011)
Written and Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer,
Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney,
Sissy Spacek, Ahna O'Reilly, Chris Lowell, Mary Steenburgen
Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett
Oscar Wins - Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis),
Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain)
There was a time in my life where I was somewhat selective about the films I watched. When The Help came out, I wrote it off, certain that it wasn't my cup of tea. It took me nearly a decade to swallow my pride and finally watch this incredible film. Heartwarming, infuriating, hopeful, and depressing all at the same time, The Help may fall under the "white savior" subgenre of racially-charged movies (see Green Book for further explanation), but it shows the domestic, casual racism that African American maids dealt with for decades in the American South. It features incredible, transformative performances from all involved, and goes a long way towards providing context and showing both sides of the conflict in the 60's.
Viola Davis plays Aibileen Clark, a maid who agrees to talk in secret to Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) about her life as a black maid in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter wants to write about the plight of black maids in Jackson, but doing so would be highly illegal under Jim Crow laws. Aibileen's involvement draws more maids to the cause, and soon a book is written in secret that provides courage and a voice to so many who had gone unheard their entire lives. On the white side of things, you have the viciously evil bitch Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the eccentric but kindhearted Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Two sides of the same coin that both represent opposite extremes. Hilly is the super racist, and Celia is the white savior. A little on the nose, but it doesn't hurt the film.
The Help is a tough watch at times, if only for the many injustices throughout the film that seem like such obvious monstrous acts now. Back then, demanding a black woman cross a tornado-level storm to use her own separate bathroom because you don't want her in yours was nothing. At the very least, I'm proud we, as a nation, have grown beyond Jim Crow and segregation. But it must never be forgotten as a truly evil time in our history, and films like The Help shine a light on how individual people and families suffered because they were born different.