Friday, February 17, 2012

Helping "The Help"

“The Help” is one of those movies that one sees with some trepidation. Regardless of whether it is well made or not... Whether the story is well-told or not… It is almost critique-proof. You have to like films with this sort of message or be seen as a bad person. You go into it wondering if the positive buzz is due to it being a great film or simply because people—particularly white people—are praising it because it is expected.

As it turns out it is a very well made, effective story. That being said, black groups have correctly pointed out that it is not really presenting a great picture of black culture and it in some ways lampoons and trivializes the problems it is highlighting. It is almost one of those movies that white people like simply because it makes them feel good about being not-racist.

Almost.

There is an important aspect of this story that saves it, but many fans of this film may have missed it.

The important aspect to understand about “The Help” is its range of villains:

Hilly is the main antagonist, but she is not the main evil. She is a cartoon of hatred. She makes viewers feel like better people simply for recognizing and rooting against her hatred. She is an accurate picture of what many bad people in the world are like, but this is the sort of villain that society should recognize and reject. Part of the problem in Mississippi was that it didn’t.

Elizabeth and the other “bridge ladies” represent a second, in many ways worse, evil. They are ignorant followers. They do whatever the hateful Hilly tells them to do. At the end of the film we see a struggle within Elizabeth, but she is simply too much of a sheep to think for herself. Ignorance and lazy morality play a huge role in much of the evil society endorses. This should be one of the lessons we take away from “The Help.” Are audiences thinking enough when watching this film to do so?

Finally, the worst of humanity on display in this story—the true villain and the worst evil—is seen in Charlotte Phelan. She does manage to repent and begin to redeem herself towards the end of the story, but the low point of the film is when we finally find out what she did to the maid who raised Skeeter. She knew firing her was wrong, and it even went against her true feelings. We see early in the flashback—through a simple glance between the two women—that she cared for her maid as a friend. However, the pressures of being accepted by her hateful society caused her to ignore what she knew to be right.

That is what should stick with audiences of “The Help” as they walk away from the film. We can all feel great about rejecting Hilly’s hatred. However, we all likely have reason to squirm when we consider our own lives and the times we have failed to stand up against evil and hatred in our world.

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