It seems that in the year or so that I’ve been working for Alvin, I’m subconsciously following him and imitating him in various ways, as in I watched “The Help” last week too.
Now, like Alvin, I also was annoyed by the fact that it’s always a White person who comes in and “saves” the day; gives voice to the voiceless; or leads the team to victory. I know it’s a winning formula (see “Dangerous Minds”; “The Last Samurai”; whatever). But I appreciated the fact that the movie displayed how there really was no means for African American women to speak out. They would lose their jobs, which means they would compromise their families, which means they couldn’t get an education, which means they would never get out of the predicament they were in, which was portrayed as just a step above slavery. That means the structure of society was oriented towards keeping them powerless and an individual who threatened that structure was more quickly disposed of in order to preserve it.
There are two factors that made the “victory” possible: anonymity and the potential shame of Hilly.
If the two women, Abilene and Minnie, desired to make sure their name was on the work, they would have almost certainly been removed and the weight of Jackson’s Southern high society would have crushed them.
If Hilly, the conniving aristocratic woman, had been less caricatured, or even had less taste for pie, the whole tension would have disappeared. This is why this work is most certainly a work of fiction and not fact. The reality was that while there were people like Skeeter and Hilly, there were most likely more of the nameless blonde housewives who simply went with the status quo so that their own standards of living would not be threatened.
That being said, I was still moved to tears at the humanness of the story. My wife wept at the rosebushes planted after each miscarriage. And I laughed at Minnie Jackson’s statement that she never burned fried chicken. As we were leaving the theater, my wife turned and said to me, “The racism seems so obviously wrong now, but it was perfectly normal back then. What is the thing that is a given now, that is going to be very obviously wrong to the next generation? Who is ‘the help’ to us now?”
As much as I talk about the whole structure of society orienting itself around keeping certain people where they are in ways they could only respond by anonymity and shame, I had trouble answering her.
Maybe the issue of immigration is “the help” for us? I know some people would say that gay rights, but I don’t think it quite meets the level of intensity and desperation as the situation of “The Help.” Who is “the Help” now?