I went to see The Help on a hot, steamy Friday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2011. I had read the book so I knew the premise of the book, but the visualization of that era was stunningly recreated in the movie. The fifty years that had intervened between the time of the movie and my own life were whisked away as I was drawn utterly and completely into the life of Southern women of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi.
The story revolves around a group of white Southern women who have settled into their middle class lives quite nicely. They all have the same successful husband, the requisite child or children, a lovely “new” ranch style house, and help--black women who actually raise their children and run their households. The racism is pretty rampant and although I new it was coming, I was still appalled at it. I was moved to tears by Abileen’s tender care for Mae Mobley when her momma didn’t seem to know she existed. “I is kind, I is smart, I is important.” If only the grown up women in the movie had learned to be kind instead of only focusing on the important part. I saw the struggle that all of the characters had with trying to find where they fit during that time. I found it quite ironic that the white women seemed to have a harder time find their place in the world than “the help” did.
The actresses in the film did a wonderful job of becoming the personas they represented. I especially liked Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote because I thought she was cast perfectly. She looked, talked, and acted just as I imagined she would when I read the book. I also saw a great interview on David Letterman of Bryce Dallas Howard (who is Ron Howard’s daughter) who played Hilly in the movie. She really “got” her role, too! She was one of those characters you love to hate.
Because I was so enraptured by the movie, I was unaware that it was almost 2 ½ hours long. And yet, I left the theater wanting to go back and read the book because I knew that though much had been uncovered about 1960s Jackson, I remembered that there were other important parts that were left out.
I would like to believe I would have been Skeeter in the time of The Help. I would have stood up for “the help,” but I wonder if I would have had the gumption to do that. Peer pressure is an awfully strong thing and Hilly Holbrook was a force to be reckoned with. And as even Skeeter found out, some of what she was doing--riding with black women, and visiting them in their houses was actually against the laws of Mississippi during that time.
I have always attended integrated schools. I started Kindergarten in 1974 in South Carolina.
From the very beginning of my school career, I never knew school as a place of anything but a mixed bag of teachers, aides, and staff who were there so kids--any and all kids--could learn. Even after attending middle school and high school in the same town where George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, tt never occurred to me that there had been separate but equal facilities for a long time after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress. Yet, I knew that sitting in that same theater there were African American men and women who were denied entrance into a restaurant, a football game, a school or university, or yes, even a movie theater during their lifetime simply because of the color of their skin.
It reminded me of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from his “I have a dream” speech--
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.” (text from http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html)
I have that same dream that I hope in 2011 we are finally achieving in Alabama and the rest of the world--to see everyone as equal and, in Abileen’s words--kind, smart, and important.