With the possible exception of the last Harry Potter film, has any movie been more anticipated than The Help? So much so that I was almost afraid to go see it for fear of being disappointed, either because the movie was not well done or because it mutilated the book. Neither was the case. The movie accurately portrayed the book, and I thought the characters were as they should be. When I have read a book that becomes a movie, I always have my character images. I read slowly, relishing the words, getting into the story, setting the stage so to speak. Often I read out loud making an to portray the characters. In The Help, I’m not sure I got the dialect quite right, but my vision of each person was much as they were presented in the movie.
I grew up in the south, but it was south Florida, and my world was very different from the one presented in the book. I only knew one family who had a maid and whenever I visited that home she was polite and generally had treats for us to enjoy. I never thought about where she went to the bathroom or how she got home or what her life was like. In my town, Negroes, as they were then called, lived on one side of town, whites on another. We went to separate schools and while they did not go to the drug store soda fountain or the same movie as me, I have no recollection of there being signs that prohibited their being there. The Help and other books/movies that address civil rights make me wonder if I lived in a vacuum. If that was the case, I also grew up without too many prejudices.
The friend with whom I saw the movie had quite the opposite experience. She grew up in the south more similar to Jackson, Mississippi, and her family had help. She well remembers being cared for by a maid who disciplined her, taught her manners, gave her hugs, and approved (or not) of her dress. This woman also had a bathroom separate from any used by the family. My friend loved the help and took for granted that her presence and the way she was treated was the norm as most of the people my friend knew also had help. Strange how different circumstances can be which means the reaction the two of us had to the movie was somewhat different.
Just as I didn’t have the experience of help, I didn’t know a Hillie, and I say thank goodness to that. I found myself wondering how anyone could be so influenced by someone like her and respecting Skeeter for having the courage to go beyond that silliness. I also wondered who I would have been in that scenario. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been Hillie, but I can only guess if I would have followed along in order to be accepted. I also wonder if it would have ever occurred to me to question what life was like on the other side.
Getting back to the movie, I enjoyed it. There was the right amount of humor and sadness. The characters were believable. It made us see once again, albeit in a fairly subtle way, how slow the white south was to accept people different from itself. In some ways, I wonder if that isn’t still the case.
If you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to know what you think; if you haven’t, go!
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