Although Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, had been a New York Times bestseller for months, somehow it had escaped me. However after hearing all the buzz about the movie, I was determined to see it even if I had to go by myself which ultimately happened.
Set in rural Mississippi during the turbulent sixties, on the surface, the movie appears to be about race relations between African American housekeepers and their Caucasian female employers, but as the lens sharpens, it becomes evident that the deeper meaning of The Help addresses issues regarding motherhood, fear, courage and trust. The characters are memorable such as Aibileen, an African American maid who has raised seventeen Caucasian children during the course of her domestic career. She becomes disturbed when the 2 year old that she cares for is emotionally neglected by her mother who is buckling under peer pressure from Hilly, the alpha woman who organizes the annual charity ball and spreads her unique brand of ignorance in the form of fear and intimidation. Hilly convinces her female counterparts that they all need to build outside toilets specifically for “the help” in order to avoid contracting mythical diseases. The discussion of Jim Crow segregation laws is nothing new in America. But what was unique about The Help is that we meet Skeeter, a young Caucasian college graduate who was raised by an African American maid whom she credits for giving her confidence. Skeeter looks beyond the occupation of the maids and seeks to discover their humanity. She asked Aibileen the very poignant question: “How does it feel to raise someone else’s children when yours are often left alone?” Aibileen diplomatically asks Skeeter to ask another question perhaps because it conjured up too much pain.
There are thousands of children left in the care of extended relatives or friends each year while their mothers work as domestic housekeepers taking care of someone else’s children. Some even leave their own country. I have met these women. I have been their physician. Their hopes and dreams for the future of their children are just as strong and vivid as mine. And if the truth be told, many housekeepers become an integral part of the family. What The Help demonstrates is that it is not easy to identify “them” versus “us.” The lines of those relationships are often blurred.
What we learn from the movie is that when women come together as a collective force, expect nothing short of victory. The bond that unites us is far greater than the distractions that keep us apart.