My daughter and I wanted to see “The Help“ the day it opened, and we did. From its ads on TV, I thought the film would be belly laughs from beginning to end. So I wasn’t prepared to cry, as I did, throughout most of the last half of the movie. Told from the viewpoint of one of the Black maids, Aibileen, the story centers on life in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s.
Often until something is placed in front of us in black and white, or in this case in technicolor, the situation between Blacks and Whites in America is an event that occurred outside our realm of consciousness. We know it in general terms, in statistics on the evening news. “The Help” brings the Black struggle down to gutter level. A hard-working mama eking out a living for her family for less than minimum wage, a job description that entails everything and anything the White woman of the house decides it is, banned from using the White toilet and having to go outside the house to pee and poop, raising the White children as their own so their mothers can be society’s butterflies, fired on the spot for being an embarrassment in front of White acquaintances.
Yes, Black maids were gainfully employed, but at what price to themselves, to their humanity? A couple of the stories told by maids made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. One had been willed by mother to daughter, essentially enslaving the Black woman to the family as an heirloom. I thought slavery went out with the likes of Tara in “Gone With The Wind?” I mean wasn’t that a long time ago? Another, an elderly maid, attempted to shorten her walk to work by cutting through open land. One day she met up with the landowner who threatened to put a bullet through her with his shotgun, if she continued to trespass. Lucky that she worked for a beneficent employer who bought 2 acres of land through which his maid could walk freely to get to his house.
The “last straw” that convinced Aibileen to cooperate with the young, White journalist who wrote “The Help,” was the death of her 23-year-old son. While on the job a truck ran over him, crushing a lung. The foreman threw the young man’s body onto the back of the pickup and drove him to the Black hospital, where he dumped him on the ground and drove off honking his horn to alert the staff.
While “The Help” is fictional, born of the imagination of author Kathryn Stockett, herself a native of Jackson, Mississippi, I’m certain she had enough familiarity with the community in which she grew up to know the truth of what occurred behind closed doors, and in public. She may or may not have witnessed the horrific transgressions detailed in her novel, but the moral fibre of her hometown was ingrained into her being, just as it is for all of us from the time we are born into our own neighborhoods and towns. They make us…whether we like it or not. Of course change can be had…
but sometimes the price can be…one’s life…alive…or dead………hugmamma.
(Note…of course I highly recommend you see “The Help.” There are comedic moments…that lighten the tragic undertones threading through the story.)