The Help is about Skeeter, an aspiring writer in 1960s who was raised by a black maid that disappeared one day. This inspires her to write a book based on the stories of the other maids in town. When Harper Row publishers show interest in the idea Skeeter and her primary source, a maid named Aibileen manage to recruit a dozen more black maids to come forth - despite the very real dangers they will face. In this way, 'The Help' has a bit of a double meaning. It is, of course, the common parlance for hired domestics, but the maids are literally the help Skeeter needs to launch her writing career.
Some may say it smacks of exploitation, and that could, I suppose be true, but it's the same kind of exploitation any writer must necessarily be guilty of when bring the story of a person or group to a wide audience. And, it should be noted that the exploitation works both ways - the maids, particularly Aibileen, are exploiting Skeeter just as much. But then it's hard to argue that both didn't have somewhat loftier goals than just the self-serving, so just as strong a case could be made that it isn't exploitation at all.
The story of racism in Jackson, Mississippi has been told from a bunch of different perspectives on the big screen, but never exactly this one, which is what makes The Help noteworthy. There are some anachronisms (Skeeter at one point uses Liquid Paper), but on the whole it's a pretty convincing period piece.
The biggest problem here is some of the characters motivations. Skeeter's boyfriend Stuart leaves her over the publication of her book, when from all prior indications this isn't something that seems likely; Missus Walters, while never very sympathetic to her own daughter seems far too amused when she gets a comeuppance from her former maid in a way that seems like it ought to have shocked such a woman; and the town pariah, Celia seems way too naive, even after her maid reveals to her why the local women ostracize her; I can only assume that there were more to all of these stories that ended up on the cutting room floor in the interest of tightening the focus of the story on Skeeter and Aibileen.
The Civil Rights movement is now part of American history, taught in schools all over the country, but The Help shows some of the reasons behind the whys of the Civil Rights movement that many of the younger generation are likely unaware of, and wraps it all up in an entertaining package. For that it deserves accolades.
Trailer: The Help
Emma Stone cures racism. Is there anything she can't do?
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