This week’s installment on Movie Mondays comes to us from the brilliant novel and film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. The book and the film are both fun and enjoyable to read/watch, but also eye-opening and hard to read/watch when the racist practices of the time are told with unflinching honesty. It’s a beautiful story about standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the consequences may be.
The story is told through alternating perspectives of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Abilene Clark, and Minnie Jackson. Skeeter has just returned home to Jackson, Mississippi after graduation from the University of Mississippi, and is shocked to learn that the black maid she loved dearly, Constantine, no longer works for her family. Constantine had worked for Skeeter’s family her entire life and had practically raised her, had always been a constant source of comfort when things were difficult between Skeeter and her mother, and Skeeter credited her success to Constantine for always encouraging her dreams and ambitions.
When Skeeter asks her mother where Constantine has gone, she tells her that she had just quit to go live with relatives in Chicago, but Skeeter doesn’t believe her because she and Constantine had been exchanging letters to keep in touch while she had been away at college and she had never mentioned leaving Jackson. During her final months at college, Skeeters letters to Constantine go unanswered and she worries that something has happened to her. Skeeter wants to get the truth from her mother, but due to her mother having cancer, she chooses not to push the subject any further to keep from upsetting her.
Since no one in Skeeter’s family seems to be telling the truth about Constantine, she begins to ask around but no one is willing to tell her anything. Skeeter begins to go about her life, and gets a job at the local newspaper writing the “Miss Merna” domestic cleaning column. Although she knows little about cleaning, she accepts the job, hoping it will be the start of a successful writing career. Skeeter’s mother is disapproving of her decision to get a job for the paper, and doesn’t believe her time spent at college was anything to be proud of, because she thinks that Skeeter should be married and have children by now instead of chasing a career, which causes a lot of contention between them.
Later, while attending her Junior League bridge club, she reunites with her friends Hilly Holbrook, the queen bee amongst the women in the Junior League, and Elizabeth Leefolt and the other members of the Junior League she hasn’t seen much since leaving for college. As they play bridge and chat, Aibilene, Elizabeth’s maid, overhears a conversation between Hilly and the other sabout her idea of building outhouses for the negro maids to use because she believes that the maids carry different diseases than they do and it is unsanitary to share a bathroom with them. Skeeter is embarrassed and ashamed of her friends, and later apologizes to Aibilene for the fact that she had to overhear their conversation. She also asks Elizabeth if she would be able to ask Aibilene for her help with the Miss Merna column since she doesn’t know much at all about housekeeping. Elizabeth reluctantly agrees, citing that it’s alright with her as long as it doesn’t interfere with her duties as a maid.
After hearing about Hilly’s plan to submit her “Home Health Sanitation Proposal” as Skeeter and Aibilene are working on the column, Skeeters asks Aibilene if she would be willing to tell her story of what it’s like to be a maid in Jackson, and how she is treated by her employers. Aibilene says no, and is adamant about not doing so because doing such a thing would surely get her into trouble. Skeeter tries to tell her it would be anonymous and wouldn’t cause her any danger, but they are interrupted by Elizabeth and her husband and Skeeter leaves, but not without asking Aibilene to think about her proposal.
Aibilene continues to consider Skeeter’s offer, and thinks about the fact that her son Treelore had wanted to be a writer prior to dying in an accident. She is finally decides to help Skeeter, but is still nervous about the prospect of being caught so they only meet at night at Aibilene’s house. As they work one evening, Minnie, Aibilene’s best friend and the maid for Hilly Holbrook, walks in on them sitting together writing and tells them they’re both crazy and just asking for trouble and leaves hastily. Moments later, she returns and says she will help as long as Skeeter is in this for the right reasons and will write her story exactly as she tells it. They spend the entire night talking, and by morning, Minnie takes it upon herself to find more maids to join them in telling their story of how life as a negro maid in Jackson really is.
Minnie has no luck recruiting more maids, but they continue about their lives during the day keep writing at night. After Hilly Holbrook unfairly sends her maid to jail, most of the town’s maids come forward to tell their stories, much to the delight of Skeeter, Aibilene, and Minnie. Skeeter may actually be able to get the book published now that Elaine Stein, the publisher who is interested in her book, knows that they have enough maids to tell their stories to fill an entire book.
The main difference between the book and movie is the way they handle situation with Constantine being fired because of her daughter Rachel after Mrs. Phelan was pressured to do so by the women she is entertaining and trying to impress. The book’s story is one that’s more heartbreaking, and you should read for yourself because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. Despite that, the adaptation was an excellent representation of the book and a great movie in general.
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