I didn’t feel compelled to write about “The Help” until I overheard someone White say that it looks like a funny movie. Are you kidding me? Obviously this person had not read the book. I tried to explain to her what the book was about. When I relayed information that I had witnessed first-hand, Black women cleaning for $8 a day and car fare (bus fare), she thought I was making up a story. This was not fiction and it took place in Pittsburgh, Pa., in the ’50s and ’60s.
It took me a while to see the movie but I finally made it. Largely in part because it was the No. 1 movie at the box office for about three weeks, so it was still at the big movie houses. On the Labor Day weekend I went to see “The Help” the theater was packed. I hope all of these people read the book.
When I have read a book that I really like that is made into a movie I have a lot of expectations. I think the movie and the subject matter were made too light to make it more palatable for White audiences. In the book the main character, Skeeter was tall and somewhat unattractive. By White people’s standards she had bad hair. Her mother was constantly trying to fix it by ordering devices and lotions to make it straighter and she encouraged her daughter to wear flats on dates. In the movie she was pretty cute, she didn’t seem that tall compared to her friends and her curly hair looked fine to me.
The movie seemed to concentrate on some of the lighter things in the book like the toilet project. As recent as the ’60s people in the south felt that the Black help should not use the same toilet as the White family and they started an initiative to place toilets in the garage for the help to use. This was not a joke to them; one of the pieces that were removed from the movie was the incident where the young Black man was beaten because he used the wrong bathroom. The bathroom that he used did not have a sign “for White’s only” and he did not know.
Reportedly, many have said some of the actors in the movie had a Tyler Perry/Madia quality. I didn’t find that to be the case, people cannot help the size of their eyes. I think the Black actresses for the most part were well cast.
If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I suggest you do both. Please read the book first. Many people don’t have any idea of what our mothers, fathers and aunts went through in the south and the north to put us through college and to bring money into the household so we could have a better life.
As recent as the early ’90s I cleaned a White women’s house on weekends. She was cordial but she kept leaving change around to see if I would take it or point it out to her. My mother told me not to touch anything that was not mine. I try to live by those words. If you don’t want to see the movie on the big screen wait to see it in your home but see it.
(E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.)