The Help: A Book & Movie Review
An International Bestseller. A Motion Picture. A moving, gut wrenching, gritty tale of racial prejudice, social hypocrisy and the freedom that only speaking the truth can provide.
This is my Review of ‘The Help’, novel and movie.
Kathryn Stockett, author of ‘The Help, was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. In the deep south of North America. She graduated from the University of Alabama, moved to New York City, where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. ‘The Help’ is her debut novel, her magnum opus and epic struggle in one. It took her five years to complete and 60 rejections to get past, until it saw the light of literary published day.
Once it did, it had no desire to sit blinking in the sunlight, it soared sky-high, and has sold in excess five million copies worldwide, spending more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List.
The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s. A period where racial tension is rampant.
The novel is narrated by Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter, two black maids and the latter, a white writer for a local rag. Three women who band together to tell a gripping story, infused with comedy, camaraderie and sadness.
The novel weaves tense chapters together, where the reader is locked in suspense and horror at the events which unfold, alternating between its narrators. There is an overwhelming feeling of sadness, which cuts deep within anyone who reads the accounts of Aibileen and Minny. Both of whom explore the degradation they endure, of having to love and lost. Of raising white children, and then having to see the products of their affection grow to be people they can never love again like they once did.
Poignant observations of a time that is still classed as recent history, shocking details about the history of the U.S.A. The book is serious, it has an important message to impart. It is infused with bittersweet humour, beautiful bonds of friendship, a masterful exhibition of Southern culture, food and lifestyle.
In the novel Miss Skeeter eventually finds the injustice around her to be stifling. She has a desire to uncover the truth, the truth of what happened to her own childhood Nanny, of what truly is driving racial legislation, to pick at the hypocrisy of the world she is a part of.
Miss Skeeter is Kathryn Stockett. For she, through her novel, was able to relate the tale of her childhood, of the place she called home, of relationships she had with Black people and of events she witnessed.
The Help is an ode to the Truth.
The Movie however loses all the seriousness and impact of the book. It became a sad attempt at Oscar Gold, and in that bid, failed to capture the mood of the novel.
Minny became a stereotypical sassy black woman, serving to add humour to the movie, with copious amounts of ”umhmm’s” and hand-on-hip posturing.
Lost, was the struggle of Minny. A fierce woman battling with domestic abuse, working hard to raise her children and holding her head high in a world which would rather see it bowed in servitude. Of a woman who was tired of being strong, but would be daily, to hold back the oncoming dark.
Aibileen was portrayed best of all. Which is purely thanks to the acting ability of Viola Davis. The scenes she had, she did well. She was able to express the core of her character, in capturing the quiet strength and determination of Aibileen. However, even here Producer/Director Tate Taylor seemed afraid to present the Aibileen of the novel. Never getting further than allowing Davis to express more than just a veneer like layer of her story.
The relationship between Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny was lost in Hollywood Translation. The brutality of the period was glossed over, in an attempt to keep the movie heartwarming rather than thought provoking.
The relationship between Skeeter, Aibilieen and Minny was never described within the book as friendly and joyful, but the movie made it reminiscent of scenes from Sex in the City.
Stockett handed Producer/Director reigns to Tate Taylor, a friend. Unfortunately he failed, for me, to capture the novel. This is epidemic of most book to movie ventures, but in this case it was unforgivable. A tale, which could have translated into a powerful display on the big screen, became a soppy, trite and cliché Drama. No doubt which will be passed over by Critics, Awarding Bodies and the memories of the general public.
Hopefully someone with more grim determination and ability to face the dark of human nature, will remake this movie and deliver to us, an expression worthy of the amazing literary work, that is, The Help.
Zishaan ‘ZuZu’ Shafi