Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie Review: The Help

With four nominations for Academy Award Oscars and three of the top five awards at the recent Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) awards, The Help was a truly powerful, moving experience to view.

Set in Mississippi during the civil rights era, the audience is confronted with the sweeping social issues of the times in juxtaposition with very private and personal versions of those same issues.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.(IMDb)
 Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the book from which the movie was adapted, is a Southern writer--and the movie reveals that "insider" secret knowledge.
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City, where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. The Help is her first novel. (Amazon Author Page)
What we have is a story of change--women's roles, racial inequality and segregation, social pressure--and what was significant for me was the depth of change in character that the movie reveals. Not only the main characters but also minor are portrayed and their evolution expressed with great focus. Actresses Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek are two shining examples of portraying minor characters who provide dramatic and comic powerful moments to the movie that underscore the basic themes.

The three central characters of the story, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a young college graduate and aspiring writer, and Abileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), maids who provide Skeeter with the "inside story," create an unexpected support group that nurtures the growth of each character.

This leads to a final point about the story. Men play a minor role in the story, portrayed as being in charge of the social structure and at the same time subservient to apparently powerless women who marry early, raise their children, and engage in questionable social club benefit events--and who actually "run the show." There is a human strength to the characters that transcends male or female roles, though.

Ultimately, the main characters (and some minor, too) see beyond color and class and gender, finding their common humanity and purpose. That's a powerful message--that being a good, powerful human being is an inner experience that cannot be judged by one's outer circumstances or position.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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