I recently watched the movie The Help and just in case you don’t know the story line, it revolves around a young southern woman, recently graduated from college who returns to her home in Jackson, Mississippi and proceeds to turn everyone’s world upside down with the use of a pen, paper and her typewriter.
As the Civil Rights Era is brewing, so is her desire to be a serious journalist and writer and thus begins her quest to write a book from the point of view of The Help. The movie is well acted and the dialogue well written. There were many things that were emotionally touching and engaging about this movie but many of the most poignant ones to me were centered on the power of the written word. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it but just the act of changing the word coat to commode in a newsletter gave the movie one of it’s more powerful and memorable moments.
The book and the movie both have been criticized as watered-down attempts to render this story of civil rights injustice more palatable to the masses. There is truth in that because this period in our history just wasn’t palatable on any level – BUT, telling a story like this and in this way does get the conversation going, and it’s a conversation that often becomes silenced as we all move on with our lives, grow older and leave the past behind.
I grew up in Southern California with a father who had grown up in Georgia in the early 1900’s and who was taught all the ways to torture and hate people of any color. I know first hand just how much damage is done by teaching our children to hate other human beings because of the color of their skin. However, his hatred and rage didn’t stop there. He extended that hatred and rage to his daughters because not only were people of color inferior in his mind, but so were females.
While it is true that I came to watch The Help with an existing understanding of the horrors of our country’s racial past, I still learned information that was not present in my conscious mind such as the blatantly ironic (I’m being nice here) fact that the white women eagerly handed their children over to these black maids but were appalled at the idea of sharing the same toilet with them. This point alone speaks loudly to so many things if one just stops and thinks about it for a moment or two.
Sometimes we have to make stories palatable just to get the truth across and to get the conversation going - and getting the conversation going is the first step to enlightenment. At a minimum, this story brought focus back to the horribleness of that time and we need to be reminded of these events so that we don’t slip back into this type of behavior. We need to study history to better understand ourselves and those around us, and hopefully to keep from repeating it, although human beings of all walks of life seem to be determined to repeat past behaviors that are not in the best interest of the masses or even themselves.
Throughout the many centuries of human existence it has been the written word that has propelled us forward and the last line of dialogue in the movie, The Help, speaks to that very powerfully. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say it’s about being a writer, and being a writer is what lifted all the women in this story up regardless of social status or skin color.