Michael V. Tueth on 'The Help'

Since Fr. Jim Martin, our culture editor, is away in the Holy Land researching his next book (follow him on Facebook for daily reports), I will highlight this latest film review by Michael V. Tueth, S.J.:

The Help is a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling first novel about telling stories and the impact such tellings can have. This film tells a pretty good story, which, while not especially well told, is moving nonetheless.

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After her graduation from the University of Mississippi in the fateful year of 1963, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) moves back into the family mansion and finds a job writing a homemakers’ advice column for the local newspaper, a typical assignment for a college-educated white woman at that time. Skeeter sees the job as a first step toward her dream of becoming “a journalist or a novelist, or both,” as she describes it. She decides to draw on the “housemaking” experiences of a friend’s black maid, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis). She soon realizes, however, that she would rather write about how Aibileen and other maids see and feel about their lives and work in Mississippi in the sixties.

Interracial contact, however, is dangerous for African-Americans, legally punishable by imprisonment though more likely to spark vigilante violence, or even murder, by the White Citizens Council or the Ku Klux Klan. Aibileen enlists her best friend, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), to join her in talking to Skeeter, who takes notes. Eventually, as abuses against the maids multiply in the town, more than a dozen domestics meet with Skeeter to tell their stories.

Read the rest here.

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Steve Newton
6 years 11 months ago
(Column from parish bulletin)  About a month ago, a film promoter called and asked if we would accept free passes for thestaff to screen  “The Help.” I had read and enjoyed the book so accepted the offer and went with a few others to see the movie. I wonderedwhy they wanted us to see it a few months before it opened but, hey, a freebie is a freebie!
We all found the movie very well acted. The assembly of actors did not have anyweak members, and just about each role’s actor was Oscar worthy. The story isfaithful to the book, which was an easy read. But I still wondered why church staffs should have a special screening. If anyone were to ask me if it is worth seeing, I would say yes, but I would not go out of my way to promote it from the pulpit—or in a weekly column!
I felt unsettled after the viewing on two counts: 1) It has some language and issuesthat I do not believe should have a PG-13 rating. I would warn viewers of that aheadof time, lest they get embarrassed taking children with them to see it. 2) Much as Ienjoyed it, I wonder why they made it. The theme is about racial inequality betweenyoung southern homeowners and their black maids—The Help. We cheer, of course,for the help, against the racist employers. Fine. I have done that before. At the time,I loved “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” “Black Like Me” and “The Color Purple” are timeless. “Ragtime” and “Malcolm X” are excellent historical pieces. I will always love “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But why would someone today make a film about what it was like to be a maid in a small Southern town in the 60’s? I have been pondering that since I saw the film.
Leo McCarey made “Going My Way,” in 1944. It is an Oscar winning film about apriest newly assigned to a parish, meant to humanize the Catholic Church for anti-Catholic bigots of that time. It is consistently ranked number one for highest grossingfilms of the forties. If he made the exact same movie in 2011, Catholics would find it embarrassing and the public would stay away in droves. It was excellent for its time. But to release it when the issues of that time are no longer would cause much headscratching. If “The Help” had been released in the early sixties, it, too, would have been a multi-award winning film. So, it is quality. I would not recommendagainst it for any reason. But if you see it and have some insight as to why the producerswanted me to see it so badly that they would give me a free pass, let me know. I am still wondering.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 11 months ago
I have not seen the movie (yet), but I listened to the book on tape during a long road trip and enjoyed it (couldn't wait to get back in the car to finish the book!)

What concerns me about the book/film is the caricature that is made of Southern women.  Having grown up in the South in the 1950s and 60s, I know that much of this caricature is true.  But in my mind the book somehow equates racism with self-centered Southern women, as if once these women became enlightened, the phenomena of racism would be solved.  The roots and manifestations of racism are much deeper and broader than that.

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