Road to the Oscars Part 2: The Help

Chynna Johnson, Contributing Writer

“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” If you have seen “The Help,” then you understand the empowering significance of this quote. Released last summer, this movie takes place in Mississippi during the 1960s before the passing of the Civil Rights Act. In the home of a white family, black maid Aibileen tends to a plump little girl named Mae Mobley whose own mother barely cares for her and leaves every parental responsibility possible up to her maid
The two worlds between black and white are depicted very differently, not only through the characters’ actions but also through the cinematography. The white world is portrayed in happy, pastel colors while the African-American world is shown as dark and badly lit, in shades of green and brown. This lighting helps to visually emphasize and convey the message of inequality.
The actress behind Aibileen’s character, Viola Davis, portrays her role magnificently. Disliking white people seems inevitable on the part of Aibileen as we find out how much hatred she has endured, yet her wish to save this little girl from developing her parents’ values is unmistakable. She eventually is fired, and as she storms out of the house the audience can feel her intensity, getting a clear view into her soul when she fixes her eyes on a woman she despises or recalls an event that pained her. She plays the role of the distraught out-of-work maid and the compassionate motherly figure at the same time, more through glances or gestures than in words by her advanced and powerful acting.
Minny, played by Octavia Spencer, is another featured black maid. She isn’t allowed to use the indoor bathroom in her employers home which causes her to speak out and as a result, lose her job. In retaliation, she bakes a cake and sweetly tells her former employer, Hilly to please have some. After watching her eat a slice, Minny remarks, “Eat my shit.” Minny’s performance makes the movie; when it gets heavy, she makes you laugh. It is deliciously satisfying to see her say and do more than she should.
Minny and Aibileen help Emma Stone as Skeeter, an inquisitive white woman who wishes to give black maids a say in what really goes on in Mississippi by writing about their experiences. She is a college graduate, surrounded by prissy segregationist housewives, yet she has serious morals and values concerning the well-being of all people, no matter their race. Stone is a good actress for her ability to play a bad liar. Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), one of the housewives, suspects Stone is up to no good several times and Stone squirms and looks believably afraid of her catching on each time.
At times, happy endings seemed to come too fast and the movie only skimmed the surface of that painful time in history. However, Spencer’s and Davis’s words accurately depict the time and, through their great acting, they save the film. The focus of the movie was mainly the necessity of civil rights for African-Americans, yet director Tate Taylor conceptualized the film through another major theme: the importance of releasing frustrations, anger or sadness in order to move on. Whether black or white, poor or rich, this theme applies to the masses that viewed “The Help.”

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