Mississippi Burning shows the good old south through the eyes of the honest lawman, To Kill A Mocking Bird through the eyes of a child and The Help is through the eyes of the maid.
Emma Stone plays Skeeter a recently graduated student determined to pen something that has never been spoken about never mind written. How black maids feel raising the children of their white employers. She enlists house maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to help her on her journey. All women know the danger of their activity, the fact that a white women is in the house of a black women is breaking the law but after mounting racism and injustice they can no longer stand idly by and do nothing.
There is already a lot of Oscar buzz around the film and rightly so, all the main actresses put in fantastic performances resulting in believable characters that could so easily have slipped into tasteless caricatures. It’s great to see Sissy Spacek on screen as the forgetful but fierce grandmother and you can do nothing but hate Bryce Dallas Howard , the prudish bigot hell bent on keeping the maids in their place. The stars of the show are without question Aibileen and Minny, best friends who’ve seen and lived it all they give the film it’s warmth and heart.
What sets The Help apart is its viewpoint, as I wrote at the beginning with Mississippi Burning we have the macho bravado of the lawmen standing up to the cowardly murderous hicks and in To Kill A Mocking Bird the injustices are portrayed with a child’s innocent mind but in The Help for the first time we see it from the side of women. Their caring nature, resilience and faith give them the strength to stand up and be counted. While not as militant a film as others regarding the south it does not shy away from the issues of the day but more so deals with real universal themes such as the loss of a child and domestic abuse. This is what makes it so original, by taking a look at the lives of maids we see on a much more human and identifiable level what the civil rights movement was about and how the racial prejudices affected black people.
Frank Darabont the director of The Shawshank Redemption when asked why his film is so popular and enduring said because it’s a film about hope and the world is full of too much damn cynicism. The Help is a rare film managing to combine the right amount of humour, suffering and belief that leaves you feeling enlivened.
Tate Taylor / Tate Taylor / Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer / 137 min / Drama / Release: 10 August 2011 (US/Canada), 26 October 2011 (Irl/UK)