A Chat With Director And Cast Of The Movie: The Help! (Pssst And My Take On It Too)

MY VIEWS | | August 14, 2011 at 5:14 am

Wow this post took a while. You know how some things are easy to write and some make your heart so heavy that penning it to paper (or rather keyboard) is something difficult to commit to? Exactly! Me too. In fact I think I have been clicking on all the tabs to actually delay finishing this post (I am the queen on procrastination). I gave myself until tonight to finish this post and I mean to stick by it.

Let’s make this post easier to digest – I will give you a rundown of the movie (super quick since I hate spoilers as much as the next person), then  some insight into my conversation with the director and cast of The Help and finally my opinion (not that you care but can’t have a post without it)

The movie

No need to skip this section, as I mentioned I won’t be giving any spoilers away. The movie is based on a Skeeter, a budding journalist who decides to tell the story from the view of “the help”. The characters all have their own deep personalities and have a mixture of strong-willed, passionate and hysterical women. The story is not as easy as it is at a time when race relations were entering a new time that not everyone was comfortable with or understood. There was also the relationships between the help and the children they cared for and stigmas and boundaries attached to them. You will laugh and you will cry and sometimes you will do both but either way you will not remain unaffected by this movie. I did not read the book so I can’t give you that comparison but I will say I will be watching it again.

Speaking to director Tate Taylor and cast members Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer

Speaking to the Tate Taylor I learned that he knew the author well and was always meant to make a movie out the book. That put to rest thoughts in my head of “director exploits story of author” as it sounded they were also friends. They mentioned (over and over) the theme of friendship and trials which permeate layers of skin color and I agree, … somewhat. So I asked them about the race factor. They candidly said that many movies were based on that and their focus was not the strife but from another angle. Of course the period setting of the movie could not be ignored. A time when things were still testy between races and the laws, while being changed slowly, were still at a time on dire inequality.

Emma Stone was asked about her serious drama roles and change from most of her regular roles and she spoke of not passing the opportunity to work in a movie depicting the community of women. Truth be the told, if you throw out a lot of the controversies making the rounds about the movie, it is in essence true. Many of the dilemmas, emotions, and reactions of the women could have been faced by my girlfriends today – irrespective of the setting. I asked Octavia Spencer again whether race was an important part though and she also made light of it focusing on the human aspect. I am not sure if the cast had agreed on focusing on the relationship part or whether they were afraid that too much would be made of the race aspect. On the one hand I agreed, but on another I wish it was accepted to many the race factor could not be ignored.

My view

This is long, so be ready for it. Many views are going around saying White people should not be telling a Black story. There are also rounds of this is “again” a tale of White “rescuing” Black. I have no idea whether I consider myself qualified to speak on this subject but I do feel growing in the thicket of Apartheid I may have something of value to add. Let’s speak about the 1st point. A few months back I was listening to my cherished NPR station on the radio where the discussion was on race. There was a statement made that it is not only Blacks who need to only open the discussion of racism but Whites too, since unless they acknowledge it exists (and existed) it is hard to move on from there. I thought hard about it and agree wholeheartedly.

The thing is it is not saying that if Whites don’t accept it, it never happened – that would gall me – like it did when in South Africa there was a referendum asking Whites if they were ok with Blacks voting (during Apartheid), that still makes me throw up in my mouth at the memory of the ridiculousness. This is about discussion, so we can move ahead. If you ask most Whites they would say that they see a person of color like everyone else and they would be speaking the truth. The issue is the other races are in minority so of course they notice. If you took a White person and plunked them say, in the middle of India, even if they would hate to admit it, if I put another White person in the sea of Indians they would notice it, even if they did not realize it. Just like that if you had to be a minority you can’t help but feel out-of-place and different,… even if the majority sees you as the same. So on that note I love that the movie told the story through Skeeter, the white, female reporter. I think this is a topic to be discussed by everyone, because personally everyone had a part in that era.

The one thing, that was extremely painful, that occurred post Apartheid in South Africa, and also most essential, was the Truth And Reconciliation Commission. It was a panel of discussion about stories and confessions. It included perpetrators and victims on either side of the color spectrum. I weeped often as I listened to stories and often about the positions of people who committed the atrocities. Dialogue after an era is important, it hurts but it helps the healing. A step that I think was skipped here post slavery. So yes, I applaud the movie for speaking about the existence of these issues and also doing it in a way full of heart.

The second point about it sounding like a “White rescue” is unfounded, well to me. Skeeter’s writing the story in the movie, Abileen is the courageous one to start the difficult conversation. Had she not been willing to take a chance that her speaking out may endure a wrath so deep, there would be no story. The movie pulls no punches about that and does not make little of that fact. Also Celia (a White woman) in the movie is the one being “rescued” by Minny (a Black maid) although I really just see it as a friendship.

I understand exploitation of races in movies and I have a favorite (sarcastically said) movie that guiles me always. It will shock you to find that I have a huge pet peeve with the movie Gandhi. Which is quite ironic considering that Gandhi is my all-time favorite hero and I really do live daily with his words ringing in my ears. Ok, seriously I don’t give a damn that that Ben Kingsley (yeah I skipped the “Sir” part as I don’t believe in the royalty game or anything that places one individual higher than the rest – especially by birth or declaration)  is an amazing and brilliant actor, because in truth he is. But in the 1 billion Indians in India they could not find 1 Indian to play that role???? That drives me freaking berserk. The fact that no-one said anything (I can discuss a whole topic on how I think Indians would have said something had a Black person played that role) is ludicrous to me. Would anyone sit back and agree for a White person to play Mandela or Obama or a Black person to play Clinton or Bush? I will not go on about how the movie which shows mostly the White actors in the credits before it lists a single person of color (even if that person of color had a bigger role in the movie/history) – this is in the credits and even on sites like imdb. The fact that the movie is amazing can also be attributed to the fact that the life of Gandhi was amazing.

So I am stepping off my soap-box, pushing it aside and ending this post. What I will say is that The Help is a beautiful movie which in my opinion is a must see. The Help tells a tale, highlights the pain, rejoices in a voice, and finds common ground. I hope you do too.

10 Comments

  1. 1

    Loved that you weren’t afraid to tackle the subject of race. Many people only wrote about how good or bad this movie was. They didnt touch on the issue being brought up.

    • 1.1
      Mommy Niri says:

      Thanks Nikki. I also think different perspectives make people see the same movie in different ways.

  2. 2

    I have mixed feelings about the phenomenon of The Help. I do understand the criticism of it. But in the end I think anything that makes people aware of the realities of segregation and the ugliness that was prevalent in this country so recently is a good thing.

    • 2.1
      Mommy Niri says:

      That exactly is my point. It is like when big companies sponsor philanthropic causes – is it “almost free” marketing? Yes but tell that to those people it is helping. Whatever helps get the message across

  3. 3

    I too love that you are able to find the goodness in a film , but critique it on the finer points some might have glossed over. I have my own feelings about this film- but love that you were able to see it from all sides and despite being privy to a special screening and interview- you were still willing to boldly blog your truth and not have that color your post. Oh and I TOTALLY agree with you about Ghandi!!

    • 3.1
      Mommy Niri says:

      Thanks Melissa, tough call and feelings of obligations mull all our thoughts. I am hoping brands and companies see the value of still engaging even if our opinions vary – in fact not just in spite of it but because of it.

  4. 4
    Lisa Stone says:

    As always, Niri, I love reading your opinions on everything. The Ghandi issue? Maddening.

    I haven’t read the book nor seen the movie. But (with a hat-tip to The Black Snob blog, which LainaD just introduced to me), I don’t think I have ever seen a dramatic film where a white woman is following a black woman because the black woman is the leader/has more power/is the role model. Then again, I’m no expert on popular culture, to say the least…

    • 4.1
      Mommy Niri says:

      Valid point and I feel some of it stems from many still living under the shadows of the past (white and black). It happened – it is not time to pretend it didn’t but understand – also weirdly as it may sound there is a place for affirmative action to pull back up a disadvantaged group. Just because everything is equal it never makes it all equal – those is power before will continue playing their cards.

  5. 5

    You know, it didn’t even occur to me that the main actor in Gandhi wasn’t Indian! Now I am mad. Great post.

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