Film the Help Review Essay

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The Help: Film Review and Discussion

The film The Help (2011), which was adapted for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor from the novel by Kathryn Stockett attempts to tackle heavy complex subject matter from a questionable perspective. The film is set in the 1960s in Jackson Mississippi, two details that make the film as loaded and complex as it can possibly be. The 1960s were the Civil Rights era in America, and Jackson Mississippi was a dangerous place. It was home to the confederacy and was a place where hundreds of innocent blacks had been lynched, among many other horrors that they suffered. This review will focus on two characters: Skeeter Phelan, the main character, played by Emma Stone, and Minny Jackson, played by Octavia Spencer.

Emma Stone’s character Skeeter is perhaps one of the most problematic in a film that is already very problematic. The film attempts to tell the story of the marginalized women who have survived the Jim Crow era, one of the ugliest eras in American history. Instead the film teeters on the edge of being a “white savior” movie, attempting to tell the story of these marginalized women through the lens of the brave and spunk woman who is trying to help them (Skeeter/Emma Stone). Stone’s character has just graduated college, and her experiences away from home have created a sense of dissonance between the people she grew up with and the realities of the world. Her mother (Allison Janney) is incredibly sick and wants her to focus on finding a husband. Skeeter continues to hang out with her old friends in town and edit the Women’s League paper, but she is eager to become a legitimate writer and establish herself via a real piece of writing. She gets the idea to do a book interviewing the black women of the town, who have worked as housekeepers. The book will detail and discuss their experience helping to run the households of white women and raise white children.
While this might seem well intentioned, the film gets off on a clunky premise. Hence, the Skeeter character, while well intentioned, fails to be anything more than the hero of a movie about white people trying to help black people, rather than about authentic and unfettered stories of the black experience.

This is because in terms of the “Cultural Awareness and Intercultural Adjustment Skills” Skeeter figures very low in terms of her own journey. Skeeter’s time at college probably took her to Stage One: recognizing that there were cultures other than her own. When the film opens, we see her at stage two, rejecting the backwards and racist culture of her town and being unable to properly or happily mesh with her old friends. Perhaps by the end of the film one could argue that Skeeter reaches stage three, where a decision has been made, and she’s decided to permanently reject the backwards culture of which she was raised. It’s not clear if she’s particularly selected a new culture or if her leaving to go to New York is supposed to imply that.

In terms of cultural awareness and intercultural adjustment skills, Skeeter has to develop and make changes in this regard during her journey. She needs to create distance from her family and friends who were all previously the proxies and influences of her culture. She undermines and criticizes many of the complaints her friends make about their black maids and attempts to subtly hold up a mirror to the rampant injustices that these women have suffered. Skeeter’s journey begins when she attempts to write the book and reaches out to the black….....

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Works Cited

The Help. Directed by Tate Taylor, Perf. Emma Stone, Viola Davis. Dreamworks, 2011.

Holcomb, Thomas K. Introduction to American Deaf Culture. Oxford Univ. P, 2013.

O\'Malley, Sheila. \"\'The Help\': A Movie About a White Woman Who Told the Story of the Suffering of Black Women.\" Politico PRO, 9 Aug. 2011, york/city-hall/story/2011/08/the-help-a-movie-about-a-white-woman-who-told-the- story-of-the-suffering-of-black-women-067223.

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