"The Help" Coming to
Theaters, August 10th
by: Bobby McDonald
Enter the "high society" of Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960's, when a woman of "class" went to college, found her a husband, and soon became a member of The League. She found it "fashionable" to smoke cigarettes, play bridge with her friends once a week, and leave the rearing of her children, chiefly to the responsibility of the family maid. And, oh! could she find dealing with domestic help, a challenge...."Mama said you were indeed fortunate to find one good maid in a lifetime, and that was really highly unlikely!"
So sets the stage for Kathryn Stockett's new book, The Help, that found it's way to the New York Times Best Seller's List, and the film adaptation will be in theaters, August 10, 2011.
However, as you soon find out, life is equally challenging for the "Negro family maid!" She knows more about what is going on in Jackson, Mississippi, "high society," than her employer, as she bakes all the cakes, that bring the "big bucks" at The League Social. She knows who has the "crack" in her dining room table, that's covered up with a cloth, because she can't afford to buy a new one. She knows who has a big blood stain on her bedroom carpet, that's covered with a pink rug. She knows who neglects her children, who is "black-balled" from The League, and who is "climbing the rungs of the social ladder two steps at a time!"
Relegated to saying "Yes, Mam!" and "No, Mam!" to every "whim" of her socialite employer, and never eating in the same room with her, she polishes the silver, sets the table, and hears the conversations at the bridge tables, across town. Entering the back door to restaurants, and having to take the bus "across the tracks" to work, and always in a starched white uniform, she isn't allowed in the "white man's" grocery store, unless she's shopping for her missus!"
Hilly Hollbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt, and "Skeeter" Phelan, are lifelong friends, have attended Ole Miss, and returned to Jackson. Both Hilly and Elizabeth have "found" their husbands, Hilly a politician, and Elizabeth an accountant, but Miss Skeeter "brought home a degree" and aspires to be a writer, to her mother's chagrin. She applies for a job at Harper & Row Publishing, in New York, but soon learns that she must "work her way up the ladder," from the bottom, in the world of journalism. Thus, she begins writing the weekly household column at the Jackson Journal. The only problem is, she's never done a household duty in her life, at her parent's Longleaf Plantation. She's been reared by the family maid, Constatine.
Seeking some way to fulfill her duties as "Miss Myrna," in the weekly household column, Skeeter solicits the help of Elizabeth Leefolt's maid, Aibileen, and Miss Aibileen gives her the answers to the cleaning questions, asked by the column's readers....how to clean spots from silver, how to lift blood stains out of fabric, clean "sweat" rings from your husband's shirt, or how to keep water stains out of the toilet bowl. So, develops an unusual association between Miss Skeeter and Aibileen!
And, we quickly learn the "other side" of the Jackson society, as we meet Aibileen, Minny, Lovenia, Yule May, and a host of other Negro domestic workers, who keep the "wheels turning" in Jackson, Mississippi, as the new color tee-vee is introduced, Shake 'n Bake is tried, Man circles the earth in space, and the "whispers" of the Civil Rights Movement, begin to "take root."We're shown the value of true friendship, the social inequalities in a "separate-but equal" society, where you can't check-out a book at the white public library, where an employer can accuse you of "stealing the silver" and sentence you to jail, simply on her word, and fire you from your job, in the "blink of an eye!"
Hilly Hollbrook, is the "natural born" and self-appointed leader of The Jackson League and wields her power throughout the society's domain, as the year's president, with "want-a-be's" fawning at her fingertips. Elizabeth is secretary, and Skeeter finds herself assuming the role as the publisher of the League's weekly newsletter. That's when she's asked by Hilly to include her newly formed "Home Health Sanitation Initiative" in the newsletter, so that everyone in Jackson can share in her idea of building, a separate bathroom for the domestic help to use, so they won't spread any of those "dastardly" diseases to the guests, who must use the guest bathroom in the home!
As the "rumbles" of the Civil Rights movement begin to build, Skeeter Phelan finds herself "torn" between the ironies she finds in the society that she's been reared, and the actual way things really are, especially after her weekly talks with Aibileen, who has a lifetime of service in the homes of Jackson, Mississippi.
Brutality "shows its ugly head" when Louvenia's grandson is beaten with a tire-iron, for using the wrong bathroom, and blinded for life. And, the Medgar Evers killing, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, surface to upset the "norm" in Jackson.
That's when after encouragement from an editor at Harper & Row "to write about what you know," Miss Skeeter decides to write a book, from the viewpoint of the domestic help, never knowing if the work will ever be published, or if she can actually get the Negro women to "tell a white woman, their story."
"Aibileen, you're proud to have your very own bathroom, out back so you don't have to use the guest one here in the house, aren't you?" quizzed Miss Hilly, from the bridge table.
"She's talkin' 'bout the one Mister Leefolt had built out of plyboard, at the back of the garage, that's freezin' cold in the wintertime, has a pull-chain for a light, and hot as hell in the summertime! When the one I clean twice-a-day with the Clorox is within two-foot of the kitchen!"
Aibileen, finally agrees to a clandestine meeting in her home, and begins the interviews of twelve domestic workers, that will be the basis for the book. Minny, the outspoken one of the group, says "If I'd played Mammy in that Gone With the Wind, I'd told Miss Scarlet to stick those green velvet draperies up her white little pooper, and make her own damn man-catching dress!"
Miss Skeeter soon finds her outlook on her upbringing and society in Jackson changing, as she hears the stories of the domestic help, and records them for the unorthodox manuscript. And, she finds herself resigning her position in The League, plotting against her friends, and being ostracized by the very people she's always associated with.
Danger "lurks" at every corner, as the material for the book is shared and the Civil Rights Movement progresses in Jackson, Mississippi.
"Little did I know when I started this project, just what would be sacrificed," allowed Miss Skeeter. "I thought I'd be driving Mama's white Cadillac to the meetin's across the tracks, in Aibileen's neighborhood, as I listened to Patsy Cline and Bob Dylan on the radio. That was before I got stopped by the policeman, that night, and had all the notes and interviews in my satchel on the front seat. Aibileen told me I needed to drive Daddy's old farm truck and park it down the street in the dark, 'fore somebody got suspicious of what we was doin'!"
You're certain to be "engulfed" in the characterization, the intriguing plot, and life in Jackson, Mississippi, as the storyline of Stockett's The Help, is brought to the screen. And, those of you who were reared in the 1960's will find yourself, just as Miss Skeeter did, assessing the values of the era, that were finally obliterated from the Jim Crow South.
"Mama, why cain't Miss Aibileen eat at the same table with us, when she prepares all the food that we eat at our table?" asks Mae Mobley Leefolt, Elizabeth's three-year old daughter.