by Katie Rose Criscuolo Online Content Editor
Sometimes, a story needs to be told twice. The Help, a 1960’s period piece taking place in Jackson, Mississippi began as a heartfelt novel which took an intimate look into the disparate lives of black housemaids and the white women who hired, commanded, and, in some ways, ruled them.
In the novel, author Kathryn Stockett captured the complex relationships between these women and the social inequality of their world. The film version (Aug. 10) stayed surprisingly close to the book, as so many adaptions fail to do.
The Help revolves around three very different women– Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark and Minnie Jackson, (played by Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer respectively) who secretly meet on a writing project which accounts the black maids’ experiences. Viola Davis’s exceptional performance in the film could have carried it alone.
After losing her only son, Aibileen Clark works for Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), tending to housework but most importantly raising Leefolt’s somewhat maltreated daughter Mae Mobley. Minnie is often the comic relief in the movie, having worked for the racist social climber Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). After she is fired for using the indoor restroom and falsely accused of stealing, she bakes Ms. Hilly a treat treat that is as unforgettable for the audience as it is for Holbrook (spoiler alert: potty humor).
And then there is Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, who, unlike so many around her in the film, appreciates on a deeper level the sacrifices black maids make in order to raise white children. 23-year-old Emma Stone certainly rose to the challenge, resisted over acting, and remained subtly lovable while portraying a trailblazing woman. Yet, for all her tenacity, she maintains the vulnerability of a social outcast.
However great the primary actors were, the movie would not have been the same without little performances from big names like Sissy Spacek (Hilly’s senile yet somehow enlightened mother) and Allison Janney (Skeeter’s mother, constantly pressuring her to find a husband and fix that “awful hair”). Jessica Chastain, who plays the “white-trash” and overly excitable Celie Foote, also gives a believable performance to a character which, when translated to a movie, could have gone terribly wrong.
Critics have expressed that the movie and the book are too concerned with race. The truth is that race is a huge component to the story, if not the key theme, because it is a period piece which takes you to a time when race all but defined who you were. With such superb character development on behalf of Stockett, director Tate Taylor, and the cast, the viewer is able to see inside each person, whether black or white.
The truth is that while black women were certainly one of the most repressed and abused demographics, all women of this time were trapped in their own stereotype. It strikes a raw nerve, to say the least. However backwards the thinking was back then it is important to remember so that we can strive to eliminate it completely.