I could not read the book, so I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy the movie. I was very wrong. In the first few minutes it drew me in, and then it built, minute by minute until I was fully engaged emotionally. When the credits rolled, I just sat speechless and watched.
The movie tackles the complex problem of racism in the United States in the early 1960ies in the South. Some critics say that rather than mitigating the problem, it reinforces the stereotypes. I say it’s not a movie’s job to solve problems. It’s a movie’s job to make us all think about a problem, and that it does wonderfully.
All the black maids in the story are well-constructed characters and likeable people. They all work hard, are smart and caring, and have to suffer humiliation and abuse, simply because they were born with dark skin.
All the white men in the story are oafs with skinny ties, big egos and nothing to say but vapid drivel.
And the white women are cunning, chain-smoking, self-absorbed brats, incompetent and good for nothing but organizing bake sales and drinking tea with their pinkies sticking out.
The black maids raise the children as substitute mothers, yet they can’t use the same toilets as the whites, even in the houses where they clean the toilets.
The movie is full of stereotypes. Yet the story engages us, draws us in, makes us feel the pain of humiliation and injustice.
What if the maids had known that within fifty years there would be a black family in the White House? They would have known that their work and battles in the Sixties were necessary and successful.
The Help teaches us some of what went on then and why it came about.