Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Help - Why Not Be Part Of The Living Proof

Cover of "The Help"Cover of The Help
The recently released movie The Help continues to draw viewers. In fact this past weekend The Help won the box office take. As TODAY reported: “No matter how you look at it, the female-driven drama about the relationship between black housekeepers and the white families they care for in the segregated 1960s is fast approaching phenom status. It drew bigger audiences than two higher-profile remakes debuting this weekend, “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night” — combined.”

The recently released movie The Help continues to draw reviewers. I am not here to talk about how The Help beat out a remake of Conan the Barbarian, but more about why people are choosing to see The Help even with many negative reviews.

Did you read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help? Did you see the movie based on The Help? I did both, but you should know that some reviewers did not read the book and some reviewers did not read the book or see the movie. But, again, I am not here to review either, but more to talk about why there is so much talk about The Help.

Some people, many women, seem very angry about this story. They are angry about the film. I am having trouble figuring out if they are more angry about our history or angry that someone who was not born until around 1971 took the initiative to tell a story about what is was like to be “raised” by a black housekeeper/servant/maid or to have been black and “raised” white children in Jackson, MS in 1963. Remember, Ms. Stockett was raised in Jackson, MS and was partly raised by her grandmother's black maid, Demetrie. So she does have a point of reference.

Here’s the thing. I was a freshman in high school in 1963, not a recent college graduate like the story’s Eugenia, aka Skeeter. I did not live in the “south”, but San Diego, CA. I did not come from a well to do family, certainly no household help. I am the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. I went to a very racially integrated all girls’ high school, with at least 35% of my graduating class being what we now refer to as “women of color” and never gave it a second thought. I remember  Medgar Evers being assassinated. And I know that Mr. Evers was assassinated just five months before President Kennedy. When these events were covered in the movie....I choked and starting coughing. The memories are strong. They will not leave us, even those of us who were not raised in the South.

I saw The Help with my husband. It was a week ago; we went to a Saturday 10:00AM showing, thinking the theater would be quiet. To our surprise the theater filled with people of all ages. The ladies sitting next to me were serious and contemplating each scene. They seemed to want to make sure the director had captured the essence of the novel. Did we clap at the end? Yes, but maybe for the same reason that Tucsonans clapped at the Together We Thrive Memorial Service. Applauding is something you do when you want to say thank you.

Thank you to Kathryn Stockett for taking a chance. Thank you for making us think. Thank you for making us want to learn more about how other people lived and live. Thank you for making us realize that we all have different life stories. Thank you to DreamWorks for producing The Help. Thank you to Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis for sharing their talent and their insights.

As I write this post, I wonder if what Kathryn Stockett is experiencing might mirror what Edna Ferber or Fannie Hurst experienced. Imagine what people thought when first they read Ferber’s Showboat or Giant. Imagine the reviews from Hurst’s Imitation of Life. The truth is, writing about race relations in our country has never been easy. Playing the part of a maid/mammy/housekeeper/house servant has never been easy. Marietta Canty did just that at least 40 times in her career. A remarkable career indeed.

This week, as a nation, we prepare to dedicate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. At this time can we stop and just have a conversation? Can we read a novel, watch a movie and find what we have in common and build on that thread? Don't lecture, but teach. Imagine the fabric we might weave if we all just took time to listen to each other’s story.

Be part of The Living Proof, share your story here...please!
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ridgely johnson said...

Our maid, Alberta, helped raised me- I loved her like a member of the family. I wish she were alive today so I could tell her again how much I love her, and thank her for all the wonderful memories I have.
Thank you Judy for this eloquently written essay- I wish all who see The Help could read it.

Judy Helfand said...

Your note means a lot to me. It shows how a novel and movie can encourage people to share memories and family history. My fraternal great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland in the 1800s. As I mentioned, my maternal grandparents immigrated from Ireland. My grandmother sailed from Liverpool, UK on October 5, 1915. She was 19, single and the manifest listed her occupation/calling as "servant".

We will talk soon.

Caryn B. said...

I love what you wrote about how Kathryn Stockett took a chance....it's true...it isn't a "feel good" film but it will make you think and hopefully inspire change...

Judy Helfand said...

When you think about it, all we really have to call our own is our life story. Being able to share the story is liberating. That means that people are listening and with any luck passing on the truth to the next generation.

I am honored that you stopped by to read my post.

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