Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Five stars for “The Help” August 31, 2011

ABOUT ONCE EVERY two years, I see a movie in a theater. Maybe three times a year, I’ll rent a movie from a video store. Occasionally I’ll watch one on television.

I tell you this because I’m no movie expert, critic or star-struck Hollywood fan. A movie needs to hold promise as an excellent film before I’ll spend a dime, or my time, watching it.

“Sweet Land,” based on the book by Bemidji writer Will Weaver, and the classic 1970s “Love Story” are among my all-time favorite movies.

Now you can add “The Help,” based on the #1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, to that list.

I have yet to read the book. In fact, I hadn’t heard of Stockett’s novel until several days ago. Yes, I sometimes live with my head buried in the sand.

The movie version of the book might help more than a few viewers pull their heads from the sand. In a nutshell, “The Help” tells the story of black women working as maids in upper class Southern white households during the 1960s.

As a native Minnesotan who has never even traveled into the deep South, my impressions of Southern history are based mostly on books, stories, photos and films. Whether “The Help” gets it right, I’m uncertain. But, sadly, I expect what I viewed on the big screen depicts historical reality.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I’ll simplify the storyline: “The Help” focuses on one young woman’s efforts to reveal the stories of the maids who serve those rich, white Southern women in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter, an aspiring writer, does that by interviewing the black women—first, Aibileen, and next, Minny—and then writing a book.

The writer angle, certainly, is a familiar one to me given I’ve been a writer for decades. But the whole “hiring of help in the household” is mostly foreign, except for the time during my high school years when I cleaned house every Saturday for a family in my hometown of Vesta. I was well-treated, well-paid for then, and simply happy to have a job—even if I had to scrub the toilet, wax the linoleum and wipe the bottoms of the legs on the kitchen chairs, all while the teenaged son slept upstairs.

My experience as a maid/cleaning girl can’t compare, not by any stretch, to that of the black women portrayed in “The Help.” They are treated more like slaves, as second-class citizens, as human beings without rights.

Especially troubling for me are the scenes involving bathroom usage—blacks prohibited from using the same bathrooms as whites.

I cried when one of the main characters, the maid Aibileen, spoke of her son’s death and how the white women continued playing bridge like nothing had happened.

Aibileen also repeats, through the course of the movie, this line which stands out for me among all the others: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

After the movie, which is a lengthy 2 ¼ hours, my husband and I and others in the theater sat through the credits. Typically we would leave as soon as the movie ended. But “The Help” calls for sitting in quiet contemplation in a darkened theater, pondering the story and hoping, hoping, that life for blacks in the South today does not at all resemble life there in the 1960s.

HAVE YOU SEEN “The Help” or read the book? If you have, please share your thoughts. I’d like to hear your opinion, positive or negative, on the movie and/or book.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

12 Responses to “Five stars for “The Help””

  1. Jocelyn Says:

    Audrey,
    I read this book a few months ago, but have yet to see the movie. It’s pretty rare to go on a date these days.
    READ THE BOOK, it is fantastic! Everything I’ve read indicates the movie is a pretty good representation of the book, but there are characters in the book that are glossed over or left out of the movie.
    Looking forward to seeing it, although I might have to wait until it is released on DVD.

    -Jocelyn

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I intend to read the book, as soon as I can get my hands on it. I’ve heard only praise for it.

      I understand the not being able to get out on a date situation. Been there, done that, as the kids were growing up. Your time will come, all too quickly, might I add.

  2. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Thank you for this powerful review!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome. I feel so strongly about this movie as a must-see. I expect to also define the book as a must-read, once I’ve read it.

  3. dakotagirl Says:

    Just finished reading the book and LOVED IT!! Can’t decide if I want to see the movie now or not.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for recommending the book. I’ve heard only good comments about it.

      I know what you mean, though, about whether to go to the movie. My past experience has been disappointment in seeing a movie after first reading the book. That said, go to the movie. It’s that good.

  4. Tara Says:

    I preferred the book. The movie did a wonderful job getting to the heart of the matter, however, there were far too many storylines and characters from the book that were altered or completely omitted in the movie.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This does not surprise me, that the movie would omit what readers consider important parts of the book. That’s usually the case. But, thankfully, as you said, the movie did a wonderful job getting to the heart of the matter.

  5. Jim Smith Says:

    In the summer of 1958 (sophmore) I made my first of many trips to the deep south with produce from Hunts to return with watermelons. I just could not understand the segregation. Men Women and Colored toilets. Drinking fountains and Restaurants. I loaded trucks with watermelons. As a white I was in charge of a crew that included two blacks about my age. I was paid twice their pay for stacking the melons and keeping a count of the total number of melons on the truck. These were the first black people I had ever spoken to in my life to that point. When we took a break for lunch I had to enter the restaurant while they ate out backgetting served through a window. The cook was black and saw to it that their portions were larger than mine. When I tried to eat with them and get that same window service they would not eat they said they would get into trouble if they were seen eating with whitey
    This is only one story I could tell about the changes I have seen in my almost 70 years. As MLK Jr. takes his place on our National Mall may we all recognize that the journey is not over yet. We still see the ugliness of racism in this community and across this land.
    I will see the movie but iknow it will sadden me. I will see our inhumanity that comes from ignorance, and I will be sad for what we could be but are not.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Jim, thank you for sharing this deeply personal and troubling view of how blacks were treated in the deep South back in 1958. To experience this first hand clearly made a lasting impression on you. It’s one thing to see this type of treatment in a movie, but quite another to read a first-hand account from a Minnesotan.

      You have my sincerest appreciation for taking the time to comment and share this experience with the readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots.

      Racism, as you said, still exists, even right here in Minnesota, in Faribault. I’m sure your experience in the deep South has influenced others and helped them overcome racism.

  6. Bernie Bowman Says:

    Audrey..I read the book awhile ago and have recommended it to many! It is one of my favorites…will probably go see the movie, I hear it is doing good in the box office.
    I saw Sweetland, but thought it was slow…maybe I was expecting too much from it.
    If you get a moment…read “The Help”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Good to hear another recommendation on the book. It’s on my list of must-reads. Thanks for giving your star rating.


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