Once when I was younger, I threw a stick at an old lady's car. The old lady got out of the car, and I got in trouble for it. When I think back about that day, I see it as a regrettable incident that I will never repeat again. I don’t try to make myself feel better about it by pretending the old lady was some evil super villain whose weakness is sticks. I see it as what it was, a learning experience.
There are many white Americans who could learn from this message, as evidenced in the film “The Help,” based on the bestselling book by Kathyrn Stockett. The message of the film seems to be that even though the treatment of blacks by whites in the '60s was pretty bad, there were still some really nice white people. I’m not quite sure that the history of blacks in America is the best subject matter for a movie if it wants its predominantly white audience to feel good about themselves.
Emma Stone plays Skeeter, the white savior of the black maids working in the South of the 1960s. She begs Abeline (Viola Davis), Minnie (Octavia Spencer) and other black maids to talk to her so she can write a tell-all book that will hopefully bring awareness to the horrible conditions they have to work in, including having to use an outdoor toilet in the scorching Mississippi heat.
While Viola Davis’ powerhouse performance as Abeline commands much of the movie, Skeeter is clearly the main character of this script. We see her troubles with finding a husband, and her pursuit to get a top-notch job at a publishing house. I’m not sure why so much of the movie’s focus is on her troubles, which are not only uninteresting but also pale in comparison to the troubles of Abeline and Minnie.
“The Help” was clearly constructed by white filmmakers and for a white audience. I’m not saying that director Tate Taylor is a racist, quite the opposite in fact as the film is well intentioned, but in the fear of controversy, he has created a film that plays the issue of racism in America too straightforward and too safe.
While “The Help” does not succeed in being a successful commentary on American racial politics, it does somewhat succeed in commenting on the way maids are viewed in society and also the positive effect maids have on the children they take care of.
It is an issue that continues today and the film examines the subject well, especially by showing the love between Abeline and the child she takes care of with no help from the mother. But in the film's fixation with race, it fails to point out that the unequal treatment of maids by their employers is largely a socioeconomic issue that is certainly not specific to the South in the 1960s.
If “The Help” was actually about the help and not about the white woman who tries to save them, the film would be more effective. Instead, “The Help” attempts to be a feel-good movie about the history of racism in America, but frankly, that is just not possible.