Liz Smith: “The Help” Needs Help — But Not On The Acting!

Oscar nominations loom for Viola Davis and the ensemble

“I HAVE a dream!” declared Martin Luther King in 1963, five years before his death

* * *

I THINK that dream might well have anticipated a man of color as president of the United States in his lifetime. I wonder if that dream anticipated the fact that in 2011 feature films could still be produced about wise and sassy black maids in the repressed South of the 1960’s, women who overcame by being…wise and sassy.

“The Help” is one of the most wildly frustrating movies I have ever seen. For one thing, I’ve seen it before; the basic plot is almost as old as movies itself. The film is based on a beloved book that I could not finish because I dislike reading dialect. So, right away, I didn’t go into the movie with high hopes.

Spunky Southern girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns from school and is (rather naively) shocked to find vicious prejudice among her old school friends. She is especially distressed at the cruel, dismissive and condescending manner all her friends treat their maids; women who have raised them lovingly. Despite risking her reputation, Skeeter –who wants to be a writer — enlists the aid of soulful-eyed Aibileen (Viola Davis) and smart-talking Minny (Octavia Spencer) to tell what it is like to work for these ungrateful white ladies.

The most astonishing bitch of the bunch is Hilly Holbrook, who is so fantastically evil, she is like something out of a Disney movie — Cruella de Vil on meth. Actress Bryce Dallas Howard inhabits this role as if her very life depends on it. She has a ditzy, half-mad mother (Sissy Spacek) and, of course, there is the neighborhood outcast, played by Jessica Chastain, who, because of her low status, is much nicer to her “inferiors.”

I won’t give up more plot details, but literally nothing surprised me in “The Help.” All the big scenes one might expect are there.

I was torn. The movie is very prettified, and picture perfect in its period detail. Music from the era plays throughout. The serious issues of prejudice don’t seem nearly as important as the décor. And yet…I would be a big fat liar if I dismissed the brilliance of every actress onscreen here. Viola Davis can express a resigned lifetime in a glance…Octavia Spencer is like an I-V of Red Bull…Miss Howard’s whispered villainy is reminiscent of Sian Phillips’ Livia “I Claudius”…and Emma Stone, known for her blonde sexiness and a few comedy roles, here inhabits a complex and driven character so totally that, one searches in vain for the bikini-beauty of the cover of Vanity Fair. Sissy Spacek is a riot in her every appearance.

As entertained as I was by the individual performances, I simply could not get past the uncomfortable feeling that the time for a movie like this had passed; that it is too lightweight, glossy and obvious in many ways to teach the serious history lesson everybody involved was clearly attempting. (For heaven’s sake, at least they could have filmed it in grittier, less candy-colored tones.)

* * *

I WAS pulled back and forth, because the charm and talent onscreen is so overwhelming. Viola Davis, who was Oscar-nominated for her five-minute face-down with Meryl Streep in “Doubt” has said she had no qualms about playing a maid. The role was great and how often does that happen for any actress, especially an African American who does not look like Halle Berry? Forgive me — I have qualms for her. (And Halle Berry’s career has been on a downward slide ever since her Oscar win for “Monster’s Ball,” a role that many felt was degrading in itself. Even her “acceptable” café au lait beauty has not been enough to sustain her career in any but a “commercial” manner.)

I’m on the ledge about recommending “The Help.” I am in a distinct minority. Almost all reviews have been slavering raves for every aspect of “The Help” — plot, script, acting. I couldn’t agree more about the latter. So I am going to urge all those who love to see actors at their best, invested to the hilt, and honest in every emotion, to go see this film. Odds are you’ll disagree with my squirming over the story.

I will predict Oscar nods for Emma Stone, Miss Davis, Miss Howard and if there is justice, Octavia Spencer.

Maybe I expect too much. Perhaps I have been too discouraged by the race hatred exhibited toward Barack Obama to ease into a movie like “The Help.”

Yes, yes — I know the criticism now is about Obama’s “weakness” and “lack of leadership” but I can’t help feeling he compromised and hoped (in vain) for some adult negotiating precisely because he knew the extent of the fear and hatred out there, based on the color of his skin, the insinuations about his religious beliefs and his legitimacy to even be president.

* * *

P.S. “The Help” has pulled in a quite respectable $35 million its first weekend out. The industry buzz insists this is one of those movies that will grow by word of mouth, and fully recoup its cost. Certainly if Oscar is kind with its nominations, there will be new box-office life for “The Help” coming in the fall.

45 comments so far.

  1. avatar mickie1 says:

    you know liz i work with a lot of people in my job who are in their 20′s and 30′s who dont realize what was going on in the early 60′s down south. the help shows them. old codger’s like ourselves know this already but the youngin’s dont. so your judgment is to your generation. i saw the help 2 times and recommend any one at any age to see this wonderful wonderful film !!!!!!!

  2. avatar sevillomatic says:

    I agree 100%. I was uncomfortable with the sassy characterization of the maids.
    Their misery, abuse, and pain is dealt with far too lightly.

    I didn’t want to see abuse or (more) degradation, but Jim Crow, segregation, the none too subtle references to slavery were all viewed at as mere inconveniences, rather than the terrifying injustices they were.

    The movie is wonderfully acted, and although Bryce Howard does everything but twirl a mustache and tie Abeline to a railroad track, I have to admit she was great.
    And kudos to the casting director- she looked like a younger version of Sissy Spacek.

    Viola and Octavia are incredible.

  3. avatar Anais P says:

    Dear Liz — You are not alone. I read early reviewers had qualms about this movie even before its release. Thank you for giving voice to them, and for your reservations about a significant number of people who have exhibited race hatred toward President Obama. I will probably see this movie because I have heard many of the performances of these women are top-notch. How often do women, especially of color, have an opportunity to retain their dignity in decent roles? Perhaps as another poster said, it is necessary for this sort of movie because our young people are clueless about this period of history. The movie may not be accurate, but I suppose any sort of exposure is better than ignorance. Thanks, Liz!

  4. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Hi Liz – The Help rankles because we all knew that was an era when decent hard working people could get no other jobs. If maids or nannies were lucky they worked for a decent family that appreciated what they were doing. Some families were less than kind to put it politely. They treated their household help as commodities rather than people. Cooks and maids often worked for minimal pay with no benefits. We really can’t say that that era is over because some of the help today is legal or illegal foreign workers too afraid to speak up.

  5. avatar surejack says:

    Dear Liz -

    I listened to the audio version which was excellent. No dialect to have to decipher.  Octavia Spencer played Minnie in it as well .  I have only seen the trailers, but was shocked at how comedic the movie was made to seem and perhaps is.  Yes, candy-colored is exactly right; they went for the larger (Mad Men) audience.  I wonder why Oprah didn’t jump on the book.  I suspect I know, but I’d like confirmation.

  6. avatar Mary says:

    I have to agree and disagree at the same time.  I realy enjoyed the movie and will see it again. I believe it depends on how you look at it.  If you look at it in the viewpoint of things happening prior to the mid to late 60′s or pre.  The movie I believe is somewhere in between.  It also depends on if you look at it in the viewpoint coming from the north or south or if you were raised with Help.  But, regardless, there are so few good movies, go see this because it is one of the better ones. 

  7. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Good post Liz,
                       I will never forget throughout the 1980′s driving on Sunset Blvd….east (past Sunset Strip) to west (towards the Pacific Ocean). On the Blvd  (on the right)  the homes were georgeous. It was a stellar view. No commercial property, all neighborhoods.  Now driving on Sunset from the ocean (west to east), you would look at the OTHER side of the street  (also on  the right) of these beautiful homes and, between 5pm -6pm…you would see all the maids (Help) at each bus stop bringing them east through Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Hollywood, Silver Lake and ever further east on east in the bus. There were no less that a dozen of maids at each bus stop, who were done caring for those beautiful homes and heading home, to the seedy part of Los Angeles. They were never allowed to change into their own clothes but every one of them had a light blue uniform and with a small white hat on…which only made them stand out more. It was a sight. Though I have not seen this film, it brings back this memory. Some of the maids looked 21. It was sad. Some maids were 60. Was this how they were going to spend their lives?

  8. avatar Craig Coogan says:

    I’m with the critics – this is an important story told in a compelling and entertaining way with impeccable acting.  What more could one want?  It’s a MOVIE.  Maybe even a FIlLM.  It is NOT a documentary or a docudrama.

  9. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Hollywood is as racist as those southern harpies. Hattie McDaniel played a maid for the same reasons most black actors take degrading roles in Hollywood now: they have no alternatives. Halle Berry, Monique and now Viola Davis are true descendents of Ms. McDaniel’s legacy. Should this film profit, expect more onscreen mammies. 

  10. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    If I wanted to enlighten younger people about the racial injustices of the 1960′s I would show  them the still-horrifying footage of blacks being beaten and hosed down and set upon by dogs when they dared to protest. 

    “The Help” is brilliantly acted.  But that’s about all I can say for it.  (Maybe that’s enough, who knows?  I did keep thinking about “Mad Men” while I watched it.)

  11. avatar Maggie W says:

    I was a young Southern girl in the 60′s.  Sometimes when I came home from school, there was a middle aged black woman ironing.  My mother rarely talked to her and neither did I.  I saw only her back, facing the wall with an iron in her hand .  After reading The Help, I thought back to the ironing lady and felt ashamed.  Why didn’t I offer her some tea or sit and visit?  Then again, maybe she preferred that I not do so.  

    The book again made me aware that I came of age in a time of great distress and fear for so many people because of the color of their skin…  and I was completely oblivious.   Completely. 

    • avatar Lila says:

      Maggie, it is not a child’s fault that they are oblivious to their surroundings. Young kids have no perspective or frame of reference; whatever is around them is what’s normal. Even as we get older, if we never see any alternative way of life, or have our frame of reference challenged, we are not likely to “wake up.” Change requires the experience of a larger world.

  12. avatar Anais P says:

    Liz and All — Here’s a different, more positive, take on “The Help.” I think it’s worthwhile to take a few minutes to read: http://letters.salon/ent/movies/feature/2011/08/16/why_the_helps_critics_are_all_wrong/view/?show=all

  13. avatar D C says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but all my female contacts are raving.  I haven’t read the book, but picked it up at my daughter’s apartment this past weekend and read the first chapter before her girlfriend who left the book there came to pick it up, along with her glasses.  I’ve ordered it from Amazon (there’s not a bookstore worth stopping in on my beaten path). I don’t mind reading dialect, so no problems there.   I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to read the whole book before I see the movie, so will probably get it on Netflix.  I really like the work I’ve seen so far of Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard and Emma Stone.  Haven’t seen enough of the others mentioned, so am looking forward to finding out more about them. 

    My life is so far removed from all of this — not only was nobody on either side of my family well off enough to afford outside “help”, we didn’t know many people that were.  We were all more likely to BE the help than to employ them.  Actually… I had forgotten… my mother DID do housecleaning — she did make-ready in model homes for a while.  She was always a clean freak.  I think she used cleaning like other people use punching bags. 

  14. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    In 50 years someone will remake The Help but it will be about the sassy Hispanic maids instead of the sassy African-American maids. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

  15. avatar Aline says:

    I was raised in Louisiana and was a little girl in the early 60′s. My family had black Help about twice a week. She was a real nice lady named Virginia. I remember her ironing our clothes. She would eat lunch with my mama in our house. But Virginia told my mama that the other houses she worked at, the white ladies would make her eat her lunch outside on the porch. The movie “The Help” brought back many memories for me. I thought it was a great movie although I used up a lot of tissues wiping away the tears running down my face.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      Thanks for that story. Your mama sounds like a rare woman, and I am glad Virginia shared her perspective with her and you so we can hear it, too. We need more dialogue on the subject of race.

  16. avatar Aline says:

    I was raised in Louisiana and was a little girl in the early 60′s.  My family had Help about twice a week.  She was a really nice lady named Virginia.  I remember her folding our clothes and ironing.  She would eat lunch with my mama in our house.  But Virginia told us that at the other houses she worked at, the white ladies would make her eat her lunch out on the back porch.  The movie “The Help” brought back many memories for me.  I thought it was a great movie although I used up a lot of tissues wiping away the tears running down my face.

    • avatar Maizie James says:

      Aline,

      I was a little girl growing up in Philadelphia PA in the early 50′s. We also had ‘help’; an older woman who was an adopted distant cousin from Louisiana. She lived with us. We affectionately called her, Cousin Georgia. I remember sitting in the kitchen watching her iron. She used to hum softly as she worked, and I used to love hearing the folk poems she’d recite.

      Many middle class Negro families [in the 40's & 50's] such as my parents, often hired individuals who fled the south. They provided them room and board and a small salary in exchange for housework. Yet, we never thought of Cousin Georgia as a ‘maid’, even though she did most of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. When my parent purchased our larger home in 1954, my father found Cousin Georgia a small studio apartment, and continued paying her to come to do day-work three times a week at the new house. We loved her.

      Thirty years later, when I was married and living in the affluent neighborhood of Chevy Chase, MD, I hired two individuals who were the ‘help’. I had live-in nannies, and another woman who came to clean three times a week. The first nanny I hired was from Somalia. She actually came from a well-off family in her homeland. She was a privileged daughter of the first wife and was used to servants of her own. Her parents sent her to America for her education, yet she took a job as a nanny because her small allowance from her parents was not enough for her to live on. She didn’t adjust to doing ‘domestic’ work. It didn’t work out.

      She was replace by a woman from Sierra Leon who stayed with me for several years. Ironically, she insisted on wearing a uniform. She told me she had been abused by other DC area employers, many of whom treated her as an inferior; insisting that she work many hours without regular low pay. When I told her I would not purchase a uniform for her and that I disapproved, she went ahead and purchased a uniform explaining that she needed to wear it because she felt vindicated wearing a nicely made starched uniform while walking my son to the neighborhood park [on Shepard Street in Chevy Chase]. It was a place where many domestic workers/nannies gathered while attending to the children of the rich. And she wanted to showoff.

      She would hold her head up high, beaming because the baby in the pram was African American, the young son of a family who respected her. Often when she returned from the park she would tell me about the plight of other nannies who were suffering from abuse – over work, not getting paid, and sexually harassment or worse.

      After interviewing several young women I believed their stories. Therefore, I felt morally obligated to become an advocate for several foreign born domestic workers who were abused by their American employers. Incredibly, some of the worse offenders were wives of prominent DC area lawmakers/politicians, and big-wig diplomats of various agencies, the World Bank, and high-end corporate attorneys and lobbyist powerhouses.

      Mistreatment of the ‘help’ was widespread in the Washington suburban area far into the mid-90′s. Thankfully, a lot has been done to make sure that domestic workers find the support they need to press charges.

      • avatar Aline says:

        Maizie,

        Thank you for telling me (and others who are reading this comment page) about your life history.  It is quite an nteresting story. Since I grew up down south in Louisiana I suppose I never thought about what went on with the “help” in northern states.

        I was raised in a middle-class white family; there were six kids.  My parents were kind and unprejudiced people for which I am quite grateful. Looking back on it I realize they were unique.  My father’s own brother used racial slurs and derogatory comments about other races.  I cannot believe my uncle was related to us.  My mama remained friends with Virginia, the black lady who helped her out at our house,  until Virginia passed away.  My parents are gone also.  I still miss them.

  17. avatar maytaguide says:

    I voted for Obama because I am a Democrat. I didn’t think about his skin color (and, anyway, he is half and half). But I can’t help thinking that he avoids confrontation and appears weak precisely because he is black and wants to be a nice guy. I was raised in an era when American politics had two main parties able to reach agreement in the center. Think Sen Everett Dirksen of my native Illinois and LBJ. We have too many extremists in US politics now, all, it seems on the extreme right, and this has debased the level of discourse, as have the media, Fox News, in particular. I look forward to voting for Obama again, but he must impress on Americans that the extreme Republicans want to turn back the clock on social issues. Democrats must stand up for these basic rights: high educational standards, healthcare, pensions, aid to the neediest among us. It would help if we weren’t spending billions or trillions on unwinnable wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, but the Republicans can never be the friends of Americans in need. All they do is lie and feather their own nests.

  18. avatar Maizie James says:

    Liz,

    Great article.

    I will NOT waste my time going to see the movie adaptation of The Help.

    Sorry but I am among the minority few who did not share raving positive opinion and praise about Kathryn Stockett’s novel. When I read the first pages, I felt similar to Liz. Because immediately appalling and unforgivable was Stockett’s ineptness to capture the southern black vernacular accurately. The way she presents it, the black vernacular becomes both abhorrent and belittling, particularly in that throughout most of the novel, Stockett avoided the use of the southern white vernacular when telling the story in the voice of the two main white characters, ‘Miss’ Skeeter, and ‘Miss’ Hilly. I wondered, “Was this deliberate?”

    I LIVED in MS for almost ten years. And, I can assure you that Miss Skeeter and Miss Hilly did not speak the way Stockett wrote their dialouge.

    Although Stockett is a novice compared to Nora Zeal Hurston when it comes to accurate vernacular, her failure to be consistent is intolerable precisely because she [Stockett] was born and raised in Jackson. Fact is that white native Mississippians have a very strong vernacular. Thus, ‘Miss Hilly’ in real life would have used ‘slang’, heavy dialect, and southern expressions; i.e. ‘Y’all’, ‘yonder’, ‘How come?’, ‘Where at?’, etc. I still wonder, “Why did the editors allow this inconsistency and discrepancy?”

    Among those few who share my opinion on the inaccurate vernacular blunder is journalist, Lynn Crosbie of The Globe and Mail online journal in a column titled, ‘Bestseller novel The Help needs help with its history homework’. Yet there is a more striking comment she wrote, which was especially poignant. She wrote:

    “Stockett, a white Mississippi native, seems, incredibly, unaware of her competition – her novel is not only devoid of any deep insight into black women’s lives, it exists in a cultural vacuum, seemingly oblivious to the impact of black artists and activists of the era she writes about.”

    Granted, Stockett’s book was not intended as a great historical ficton novel. It’s certainly possible that she was just trying to tell a simple story about the plight of maids in Mississippi during the 60’s. Certainly one could argue that Stockett’s Skeeter character is similar to Harper Lee’s character, Scout in To Kill A Mocking Bird. Only now Scout [like Skeeter] would be grown up. After all, I suspect that Scout [also] took her black nanny for granted because she was a little girl trying to unravel the secrets of the recluse neighbor. And in the process she just happens to learn about classicism/poverty and the unfair justice system and treatments of blacks from her father, Atticus.

    No. Atticus certainly didn’t quote DuBois. However, Scout was enlightened learning about social and racial injustice through witnessing the courage of her father. Even if Harper Lee was simply trying to tell a simple story about injustice in a small southern town, her story emerged as literature; a keen academic criticism of social injustice, ignorance, and racial intolerance.

    However, Stockett gravely trivialized the fervor of the 60’s racial upheaval. After all, her story took place in Jackson, the capitol of MS during an era of radical racial activism gaining national headlines – NOT in some obscure little town in the south.

    Lynn Crosbie speaks about this in her column pointing out that in The Help, national headlines were muted, omitting important events such as when Meger Evers and others were killed or lynched in Jackson. And, where only thirty miles away, the murder of James Chaney and the two white New Yorkers – Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, was not mentioned. Nor was there mention of when James Meridith had to be escorted by National Guards to attend Ole’ MS in Oxford.

    Surely, Stockett’s characters Abileene and Minnie would have spoken about these tragedies – especially to each other. Like Crosbie, I also wondered about the deletion of the role that white men played in the subjugation of black maids.

    Last year when I was asked to write a review of The Help, I met an extraordinary 94 year old woman born in Oxford, who used to work for William Faulkner. I asked if I could interview her, and she agreed. I knew she would be a credible source for information about the plight of domestic workers in Mississippi during the volatile period of civil rights activism. BTW: She and many other domestic workers like her were educated, and raised a family ; she has a daughter who is now a Superintendent of Schools, and she has a son who is a lawyer.

    My [other] problem with Stockett’s novel is that she spent too much time with nonsense, such as the infamous chocolate pie, which I considered insulting, or at best, degrading ‘slapstick’; a writing gimmick – sensationalized and solicitous [like the way lurid sex, gore and violence is used by writers] to lure readers wondering if Minnie actually put sh*t in the pie.

    Worse, when Stockett attempted to capture the mindset and plight of the two main black characters, Aibileen and Minny, her vivid and detailed negative descriptions of the physical appearance of maids, and the way she described other blacks – ‘black as tar’, big lips, palms and sole of their feet being ‘orange’ against black skin, etc., triggered images of exaggerated caricatures of black southerners that used to be in cartoons and movies during the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s.

    No wonder! Considering Stockett’s background, growing up in Jackson, and her [reported] relationship with the ‘maid’ who help raise her, I viewed her ‘analysis’ of Aibileen and Minny as shallow and shortsighted, and even contentious. I asked myself, “How can Stockett possibly understand any deep insight into what it’s like being a black domestic worker?”

    Instead, her presumptuous and often tenuous peek into the souls of Aibileen and Minny, and the negative portraits she paints, becomes gravely overshadowed – if not irrevocably tarnished – by an unnerving rumbling and perpetuation of racial stereotypes, which rises to a crescendo that ultimately shatters, soils, and distract from the narrative … thus, diminishing the power of the story. The true tragedy is that the ‘tarnishing’ was ever so subtle, and probably unintended.

    Finally, although I give Stockett credit for her attempt to tell a story about racism, suffering, indignity, humility, and redemption, she becomes her own saboteur. Because in her clumsy efforts to elevate the courage of the two black maids, the narrative becomes disingenuous if it leaves just ONE reader with a reinforcement of stereotypes or long held beliefs sprung of prejudice. Or, if just ONE reader is left with ‘just cause’ to feel offended.

    Sorry, but I happen to be among the latter.

    • avatar Aline says:

      Maizie, you don’t have to be sorry for feeling offended, but you are way over analyzing. So Ms. Stockett is not perfect; she only had good intentions when writing her book. And you are missing out on a wonderful movie.

      • avatar Maizie James says:

        Aline,

        Thanks for your comments.

        Yes. I often go on a ‘rant’ about topics I feel passionate about. I should have simply stated that I did not like the book. Perhaps the movie IS good entertainment, however I very much doubt if I’m missing out on a great film.

        BTW: There are a few film adaptations of popular best-seller books from the past 10+ years, which are done well. Among them was Bernhard Schlink’s, The Reader. Of course, the book was far superior.

        Conversely, I read John Berendt’s non-fiction novel, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil four years ago. It was a great book. Then a year ago, someone recommended that I see the movie, which starred Kevin Spacey. The movie was so terrible, I couldn’t finish it. It was so badly done, it surpassed my least favorite movie, the mini series, The Far Pavilions based on M.M. Kaye’s sweeping novel. I enjoyed the novel and will read it again in the future. As far as the mini-series, I never finished watching it. I donated it to the library.

        I wrote in a previous comment that I’m curious to see the film adaptation of Sarah’s Key. I enjoyed the book, and I’m hoping the movie will be of substance.

        Again, I appreciate your comments.

      • avatar Aline says:

        Maizie,

        I also saw the movie “The Reader”.  Didn’t read the book.  The movie was very good and Kate Winslet won an Academy Award for her performance which I think was deserved.

        I read the book “Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil”  and saw the movie.  I agree that the book was much better, but I am a Kevin Spacey fan so I watched the whole thing.

        And I am looking forward to Sarah’s Key as well.  I want to read the book before I see the movie.

        Good talking to you.         

      • avatar Maizie James says:

        Aline,

        Please read the book, Sarah’s Key before going to see the movie. Too often, movies adaptations fall far short of dramatizing details and the more powerful messages of the books.

        For example, I recently watched the movie, The Namesake by Indian [Bengali] American writer, Jhumpa Lahiri. The film adaptation was not disappointing, however the book was a lot better. If you enjoy reading Asian/Indian writers, I recommend Jhumpa Lahiri. She also wrote, Interpreter of Maladies, and Unaccustomed Earth. All are great books.

        Oh. And Lisa See’s new book, is out; Dreams Of Joy. It begins where her novel Shanghai Girls left off. If you are new to reading Lisa See, begin with Shanghai Girls, then follow up with Snow Flower And The Secret Fan, then Peony In Love. I’ve read all her novels, and enjoy her writing slightly better than Amy Tan – another Chinese American writer. [I enjoyed Tan's, The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Kitchen God Wife.]

      • avatar Aline says:

        Oh Maizie,

        I forgot to tell you that after reading “Midnight in The Garden Of Good And Evil” I went to Savannah, Georgia where all the drama in the book took place.  I went on the book tour and saw everything I had read about.  it was very interesting and fun!  

      • avatar Maizie James says:

        Thanks for sharing.

        Seems that everyone I know who has visited [historic] Savannah Georgia enjoyed their visit.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I don’t know about Mississippi but I do know about Louisiana and I grew up spending summers with my own version of “The Steel Magnolias” in Shreveport and some of the vernacular “rings a bell” particularly the “Miss” and the “Mr” which I still occasionally hear to be honest in Houston – not everyone has liberated themselves it seems.

      It was the way it was.  Authors sometimes take “license” with the way it was.  But it was was the way it was. Pretending otherwise is far more the demeaning of women who raised many of us, were our mothers and friends and confidantes, and who despite being all those things were looked down by society as somehow “less than” and I for one always thought given what they had to put up with that they were really “greater than” given they gave so much to those who would eventually probably look down on them as well. As many did.

    • avatar Aline says:

      By the way, the news of the killing of Meger Evers IS portrayed in the movie “The Help”. Afterwards, Abileen and Minnie are frightened but decide to courageously continue telling their experiences and stories so that future generations will know what went on in the ’60′s.

  19. avatar Aline says:

    To maytagguide: Fox news? Extreme right? MSNBC and Chris Matthews are so extreme left, calling anybody on the right “terrorists”. After the horrible tragedy of 9/11, throwing that word at people just because you disagree with them is uncalled for and inflammatory.

  20. avatar Lila says:

    Movies like this may make some uncomfortable, but they depict the truth, however imperfectly. I see no reason to avoid these topics, nor do I understand the hue and cry from some who are criticizing the black actresses for portraying maids. If the story is to be told at all, who better to portray black women than… black women?

    Hattie McDaniel: “Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.” And she knew whereof she spoke, having done both, extensively. It’s great that today, black women have many more options than this, but those who went before don’t deserve to be buried, denied, and forgotten as part of a distasteful history.

  21. avatar Maizie James says:

    Not interested in seeing movie adaptation of, The Help. Yet, after reading Sarah’s Key, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation, hoping the screenplay remains faithful to the novel.

    Can’t wait for Liz’s review.

  22. avatar Barbara says:

    I guess I don’t necessarily go to the movies for education on racial politics or enlightenment on prejudice. I go for good stories well told. I very much liked the book and I felt the movie was also well done. Maybe you are looking too hard for messages in the movies you go to. What’s wrong with some good entertainment. The story rang true for me, and I grew up in the same time period.

    • avatar Maizie James says:

      Barbara,

      I like what you said about going to the movies: “I go for good stories well told. ”

      I also enjoy a GREAT STORY well told. Yet, I also want to be enlightened, uplifted, or educated. This is the reason my preference is docudramas such as Gandhi, The Last Emperor, The Diary of Anne Frank, or movies based on real people; Lawrence Of Arabia, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Malcolm X, etc.

      Of course there are many great movies which should be shown to students so that they learn about prejudice, classicism, and oppression. I intend to let my young granddaughter see the movie, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas because of it’s powerful messages. Similarly, I’ll let her see the movie, Sounder for similar reasons.

      Of course there are moment when I simply want to be entertained with humor/comedy or lite romance relief. However, it’s my general/basic nature to prefer to watch movies of a substantive quality. Otherwise, it’s a waste of my time.

      I was brought up reading the classics at an early age. Although I saw many of the early film adaptations of a classic book which had a lasting impact on me: Great Expectations 1946, A Tale Of Two Cities 1935, Captains Courageous 1937, The Good Earth 1937, Anna Karenina 1935, How Green Was My Valley 1941, etc.

      Yet, by the time I began Junior High School and was introduced to Shakespeare, I’d already read Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and other ‘classic’ writers. The books were always far superior. Also, my maternal grandfather wrote for the Negro Digest, among other news journals that focused on the ‘new Negro’ in American society.

      Therefore, I suspect I acquired a distinct scrutiny for determining preferences for [ discerning] what was good literature, plays, books, news journals television programing and …great motion pictures.

  23. avatar Frau Quink says:

    “The Help” is a good story told very well. It is a movie, not a documentary.
    It just happened that I arrived in the States in 1965. I entered an employment contract with a family
    who arranged for the ‘green card’ for me. In exchange I became a domestic for a year.
    So, for one year I was “the help”, except I always knew that this was a temporary situation.
    I learned a lot about the United States and myself. At my house in the old country our maid ate with us at the family table. 45 years later I still have to laugh about how shocked I was to have to eat alone.
    I also had to wear a uniform, of course. I have never regretted the experience. And I am still proud of it.
    To all the critics who have complaints about context and style of the movie: This movie
    was long past due. It does not matter that some parts are too stylish or over the top.
    It is a good movie with fabulous actresses. I sincerely hope that Hollywood will honor this movie
    with Oscars.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Frau Quink, my Dad’s grandfather and grandmother came over from Saarbrucken; then his grandfather died in 1892 of typhoid, leaving his wife and three young kids behind. My Dad’s grandmother never learned English very well and supported her kids as a housemaid, “scrubbing endless floors,” as my Dad put it. Any time things got difficult in my Dad’s life (and there were some difficulties!), he would think of his grandmother as an inspiration.

  24. avatar Susan Smith says:

    When I first read about the movie I too paused to understand the relevance. After all, our president is a minority and it seems we have come so far. The night before going to the movie, I took my 7 year old niece out to see the full moon rise. As she looked through the binoculars she thought it was cool. I talked about Neil Armstrong walking on that planet. She was doubtful that had ever happened and it must have been a make believe movie I had watched long ago.
    When I think we have come so far I look at the current statistics where 600,000 men have been reemployed and an additional 218,000 women have lost their jobs. We have fewer women representatives than in the past 20 years. We still have no ERA and it took until this year to get coverage for the pill. It wasn’t a movie about race, it was a movie about place in history for all women.
    If it takes stepping backward to see the past before we can move forward again, then thanks go to DreamWorks for the reminder.

  25. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    As always Liz, another great article!

    What are the two topics in America that are hot button issues? Race and Politics. Bring up either and it touches a nerve in those discussing it. The Help I am finding is both interesting because it is yet another catalyst for Americans to discuss and debate deeper issues that are addressed in the book and movie. But on the other hand (at least among those in my personal life) it is serving as a sensitive subject and sore spot for many – in my opinion needlessly.

    My co-worker who I love dearly but disagree with often, is angry because she feels the author of the book which was the touchstone for the movie, “needs” to give some of the millions to the maids featured in the book. “Why should she get rich off the misery they endured” is her basic thought process. Wrong.  If that were true there are millions and millions of people either directly or indirectly featured in books and movies that have money coming! :-) I think that is silly.

    And there are people angry because when we think of The Help and specifically the term “maid” used throughout the book and movie to describe the Black women, people are offended that this role is now changed to Housekeeper or Nanny. In my opinion, so what? We were once Negroes – coloreds now we are Black. People routinely referred to mentally challenged people as retarded and now we say disabled. It’s called advancing and change. That’s a good thing.

    But I always say we should never let these moments that could be a real source of conversation and learning among Americans to slip by us. As we have seen it pops up once in awhile. Whether it be a notable getting arrested or beaten where race was at play. Or how our first President of color is treated and perceived. These are times we should all (among our individual circle of friends and family) take the time to have real conversations about race and how we feel. How our views are changing for the good or bad and why?

    To be sure the 50′s and 60′s in America for Blacks were not happy times. However for me (and I could be alone on this) I see it through the prism of the book and movie The Help, as another example of how we can sometimes allow our fears of others to cloud our humanity. These women had lives like anyone else. They were mothers, sisters, aunts and nieces. They loved, had sex, fears, hopes and dreams. The only thing that separated them from their White employers was race. “Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it” We need to remember how these women were treated so that it never happens again. No one should be treated as they were. We allowed it to happen because we didn’t know any better. But now we do. That is my take away from this chapter of our past.             

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      They weren’t just yours. They were ours. Growing up we didn’t know anything other than their love.  At least I didn’t.  Not everyone looked down on them. I certainly didn’t.  And I am not alone in that. How hard it must have been to love us when our parents hated them.  I use the word “us” and “ours” collectively. Some of us have learned from the past. Others, well, not at all. I have watched how some have veiled their racism in their “legitimate” criticism of Barack Obama. I have to wonder what they would do if Christ returned and he was black. They would probably crucify him a second time. I do see your point and Maizie’s point – but trust me I wouldn’t trade my memories of a wonderful woman named Lil for anything. Or the way she sometimes looked at one of my aunts.  Which was the same way I often looked at one of my aunts. I can guarantee you Lil is in heaven. Not too sure about my aunt.

      The “mammy” as some were called are part of who we are.  A part of the nice part of who we are. Some of us anyway. They were our mothers, our friends, our confidantes.