Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Help

There are movies that entertain you, there are movies that move you, and there are movies that make you think. The Help is that rare movie that does all three.

Here are the bare bones of the story: It's 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has recently graduated from Ole Miss, she wants to become a journalist/writer, and she would like to work for a publishing house in New York. She finds her vehicle to do so in interviewing the African-American maids of Jackson, getting them to tell her their true stories of what their lives are like. Such candor can easily lead to broken lives.

This was the tail-end of the Jim Crow era in the American South, the last gasp of legal, institutionalized racial segregation. It was the atmosphere I was born into. I once, in my teens, met an elderly black woman who told me that she babysat my father when he was a young boy. She then proceeded to tell me that she'd call him Huston in private but Mr. White in public, because she "knew her place."

That story lead in the movie, and I assume in the original novel, to the publication, credited to "Anonymous", of a book entitled The Help. How very meta.

I took away a few concrete notions from the movie: 1) Courage is defiant. 2) We come to know each other only through sharing our true stories, and truth is the most necessary story of all. 3) Love is subversive.

I'm ashamed that I don't remember my father's babysitter's name, but I hope she'd find that the truth and subversion in The Help would make "her place" a bit wider.

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