For a couple of years, I resisted reading Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help.
I was afraid of yet another story in which the experiences of black women are marginalized by focusing on a white woman’s perspective. (That’s how I felt about The Secret Life of Bees in print, though the film was an improvement in this regard.)
When my book club added The Help as a selection, I couldn’t put it off any longer, and after the first few pages, I was surprised by how much I ended up liking the book.
The Help is a pageturner, and there is some complexity in the novel regarding race, gender, and social class that I found surprising.
Along those lines, I believe the film adaptation of The Help is a good one.
The film is very much a product of Hollywood with emotional tones ranging from laughter to tears, but it also captures some emotional truths along the way. And, sometimes a well-crafted, mainstream movie can be richly satisfying.
The story is ultimately affirming as a young white woman connects with black maids to help them share their life stories with a wider audience, but the stakes are high because of the very real danger they face for crossing the color line and speaking up about a system of oppression.
The production values are high, the story engaging, and the performances are strong.
Emma Stone, who plays Skeeter, is always enjoyable to watch, but it’s Viola Davis as Aibileen who is the heart and soul of the movie. I’ll be surprised if she isn’t nominated for an Oscar for this role.
It’s fun to see Sissy Spacek, and Allison Janney, and Cicely Tyson and others, too, but it’s hard to watch anyone but Viola Davis when she’s on the screen.
The relationships these women have with one another are both complex and nuanced and speak volumes about the cultural context of Mississippi in the Jim Crow era. Sometimes the best way to get inside a viewer’s head is through the heart, and The Help succeeds on that level.