‘The Help’, Director: Tate Taylor, Actors: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, Rating: ****1/2 – Poignant, Gutsy, Topical and Important.
The history of the world is the history of the billions of brutalities perpetrated on millions of people. The modern home of democracy and the land of many champions of liberty, the US is also one of the world’s most brutal, obvious from its treatment of colored people.
‘The Help’ takes on the premise of the way colored people were treated in the ’60s to weave a poignant story of love, courage and justice.
A young writer (Emma Stone) in the land of racial segregation in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, secretly interviews colored women working as housemaids in white people’s houses. In an extremely racist environment where it is outlawed to even talk of justice for the colored, they threaten the unquiet and unjust peace of their small town, while risking their own lives.
If you are a sensitive person, get ready to weep buckets as writer Kathryn Stockett (novel) along with scriptwriter and director Tate Taylor presents not only the big injustices that the colored community faced, but small, insignificant humiliations they lived through for centuries.
There are many films that have tackled racial injustice most notably ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Mississippi Burning’. But most of these films have focused on physical violence that moves communities.
‘The Help’ is a film projecting the structural violence that one race perpetrates on another. The film shoots itself up amidst the pantheons of world’s greatest films ever made on the subject.
It speaks out to people suffering injustice, to stand up and take their destinies in their own hands, to not accept their misfortune but to find courage to fight it. There are no preachy statements, no lecture against racism. Instead, in the true spirit of cinema, it shows it, and lets you, the viewer, decide for yourself.
Besides an almost perfect screenplay and direction, what gives the film its concentrated strength is the near perfect casting. You have some Oscar worthy performances from Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard. While the first two tug at your heart as oppressed housemaids, it is Bryce’s portrayal of a heartless woman that gives visual representation to a racial hatred that has lasted centuries.
Melodrama is usually, and justly, criticised in cinema. But if effectively played, it can help a film soar beyond the obvious.
The refined melodrama of ‘The Help’ becomes a lesson to filmmakers globally who desperately try to trigger the tear ducts of their viewers. Indeed, melodrama has never looked better in cinema before.
The movie, a Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, was rejected by 60 literary agents but after finally being published in 2009, has so far sold five million copies and has been published in 35 countries.
The film has so far raked in over $200 million. This talks oodles about the power of a good story told well and people’s sense of justice that is triggered by this beautiful story.
Today as racism raises its ugly head in different shapes and guises; the film becomes a topical and poignant statement against it.
In a scene from the film, a maid tells a young girl ‘You is kind, you is smart, you is important,’ that indeed is the message of ‘The Help’ to everyone who is facing oppression anywhere in the world.