Courtesy - The Sunday Leader By Sumaya Samarasinghe
When Soma or Joseph wake up at dawn to prepare a freshly cooked lunch or straighten a messy house after scrubbing the toilets before walking around carrying a grumpy child in their arms; few would find that abnormal eventhough the house in not theirs, the toilets are not the ones they use and the baby isn’t their flesh and blood.
They are often called “servants” a terrible word to describe another human being who is doing the most humiliating job one could even think of: cleaning the mess and taking care of the property and children of others for a pittance. The Help which takes place during the Civil Rights movement era in the USA, is based on Kathryn Stockett’s wonderful novel of the same name and for many of us, the story will be a good wake up call to remember that those who clean after us are human beings.
The Help describes the lives of maids, two in particular Aibileen and Minny who are approached by Eugenia “Skeeter” Pheelan( Emma Stone), a white neighborhood girl whom they have seen grow up. Skeeter has come back from college and wants to be a journalist. But in Jackson, Mississippi, girls are expected to marry, cook and have babies. Increasing their IQ levels and questioning how they treat their helps is not part of the requirements to land yourself a good and preferably rich husband.
When Skeeter returns home, she gets a job at the local newspaper writing the homemakers hints and soon realises that she needs Aibileen Clark’s (Viola Davis) help to answer the questions.Aibileen is played by an absolutely magical Viola Davis whose intensity and stare just mesmerize you. She has spent her life taking care of little white children,whereas and she has lost her only son. Quiet and dignified, Aibileen seems resigned to her faith. Her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) on the other hand is outspoken and unable to bow down to her bosses demands which gets her often fired and quickly re-hired for her unique culinary skills.
Skeeter begins to observe the way her own childhood friends speak to their helps and is particularly appalled at Hilly Holbrook’s idea of a “ Home Help Sanitation Initiative” which is a proposed Bill written by Hilly aimed at providing separate bathrooms for helps because she thinks that “they” carry diseases which white people don’t! Skeeter who has the ambition of being taken as a “serious” writer comes up with the idea of recording the statements of all the “helps” in her neighborhood. Aibileen is the first to accept, then a reluctant Minny who ends up talking all night long.Skeeter sells her idea to an editor in New York who presses her to find a dozen more “helps” to interview. The editor believes that this book will be commercially viable only during the Civil Rights Movement which may not last for long, hence the hurry to publish it.
The ladies in the film are nasty racist social climbers and consider themselves too good to mingle with the slightly tacky and yet kind Celia Foote who married a wealthy business man, so in other words anybody who does not fit their criteria of “ good” is unacceptable whether black or white.The men in the film are vaguely in the background and most except for Celia’s husband are spineless fellows. Some may wonder why it takes a wealthy white girl with a social conscience to write about the plight of African American maids in South? It is very clearly shown that they were frightened to talk, that they were desperate for their jobs and often stuck in abusive relationships, writing a book like this themselves would have been suicidal.
The sub plot in the story is Skeeter’s missing nanny Constantine who has mysteriously gone missing from the family home.
There are a lot of good, funny and very teary moments in “The Help”. Excellently acted, well filmed, the story is living proof that change is possible and America has gone a long way since the Civil Rights Movement.