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Steen: See The Help
Seeing The Help, a film from a novel by Kathryn Stockett, may well have been the best couple of hours spent in a long time.
Fittingly, the earlier showing on Saturday night was attended by a large number of book club members and from what I’ve heard, the book is a must read also.
Set in the Jackson, Mississippi, of the ’60s, this is a riveting, emotional, funny (in places) movie with rich characters, with superb acting. Bryce Dallas Howard is remarkable as the incredibly awful Hilly. While not perhaps a household name, she played a vampire in the movie Eclipse.
The 1960s in the south was a time of the KKK. It was a time of the Freedom Riders (a story unto itself), the Kennedy assassinations and the murder of Martin Luther King. This was a time of unrest and angst, and black workers in The Help were smack in the middle of it all.
Centered around the black workers’ slow walk to equality, even to being refused the use of the toilets in the very homes in which they raised white babies, it was a time of “coloured only” entrances to public buildings and riding in the back of the buses. Who can forget that, while Sammy Davis Jr. was good enough to entertain the white folks in Las Vegas, he wasn’t allowed to swim in the pool of the very hotel in which he entertained.
And while we might think ourselves the kinder, gentler nation to the north, we too have had our moments in the history of social equality. We have only to look at the mistreatment of the Chinese workers in the building of our railroad, or the ‘Irish need not apply’ signs so prevalent in the East to see that we were not without blots on our blotters too.
However, we are not a country where slavery had its roots. The Help portrays all that is bad and ugly, without any good in the treatment of black workers who “just weren’t as good” as the people who employed them.
It was a small step forward from house slave to the house maids of the 1960s South, but these baby steps were a part of the tide of Civil Rights which ultimately swept the nation.
What makes The Help stay on our minds is the knowledge that the stories are based in fact and while there are indeed many moments of levity, the whole package is truly a brilliant look back at a time that was not as simple nor as kind as we often think it was.
The sets are true to the era. What we do share with our southern neighbours are the homes, the clothes and the styles of the ’60s portrayed in The Help. I’m sure I actually saw my parent’s couch in one scene—just as awful as I remember it. And oh, those hairstyles—what were we thinking?
The Help is truly a must see, it makes us face again the very depth we often go to as a society to be “right” no matter what the basis is for the conviction or who that conviction might destroy in the process.
There were many great lines, but one that resonates was: “Am I going to believe all the bad things those fools say about me today?”
This is indeed a five reel film. Its messages, imagery and truth will not soon be forgotten by anyone who sees it. Enjoy the movie, enjoy the wonderful sound track and read the book.
Susan Steen is a local non-profit executive and movie buff.