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- Director: Tate Taylor
- Release Date: Aug 2011
- Run Time: 137
- Genre: Drama
The Help: There’s a Reason They are Called That
The thing about American racial politics in the 1960s South is that today the say all- tell all propensity of its black survivors makes for good social commentary. In an era where the American President is dark skinned and half-white, an era that is supposedly “post-racial”, films like “The Help” bring to life the undertoned whispers of a not so peaceful past that inform the memories of an older generation with stories to tell—and tell directly. Viola Davis stars in this hands-down hit of the summer where she pulls off lines such as her answer to the query of “What do you do?” The Negro maid in Mississippi says with non-chalant, facts of life surety: “Lookin’ after white kids is what I do.”
Davis stars as “Abileen” in Tate Taylor’s screen version of the first novel by Kathryn Stockett. Emma Stone plays “Skeeter”, a young white woman who decides to treat the black women who work in the homes of a small town in Mississippi like real people, something not afforded by and large to blacks in the Jim Crow South. Skeeter wants to know how they live as they do what they do. The film is ambitious as the nuances of racialized ethnicity of blacks is difficult to convey without setting up stereotypical traps in the script.
Taylor is fearless in the subject matter treatment. It implies a familiarity and comfort with black life. There is a fine line between familiarity and presumption. Often times film makers can err on the side of presumption by overplaying facial expressions, or misplacing a euphemism that makes the talk fall short of the much needed walk if shattering stereotypes is part of the mission.
“The Help” is an inspiring film. To me, whenever a film makes a conservative effort to recast the past in America, and it uses racial politics as the center theme, it is making an effort at telling the truth. Further, when the film places black people center stage in the storytelling, it gives itself the opportunity to present an accurate representation of the attitudes and values of blacks as these are informed by the proclivities of their racial overseers- whites.
America has a long way to go in telling its story as a nation. Films such as “The Help” will go a long way in schools and universities where the discussions and conversations abound on matters of race, ethnicity, and gender. The outer-facing America is also well-served by a film like this one because it helps a people tell the truth about themselves in an unafraid way. “The Help” is well worth the time invested to go out and see it. Take friends and talk about it!