Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, the comedy/drama (rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language) stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a journalist. Skeeter (her childhood nickname as she had, like mosquitoes, long legs) hears that her friends are trying to pass a law forcing their black maids to use separate bathrooms. She decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families, not realizing what effect her investigation will have on her friendships or the future of civil rights.
The author of the book, the writer of the screenplay, and the producers, all of whom are white, comically and poignantly sear through a passed-down social bigotry, reminding viewers of how far the civil rights movement has come.
In the film, a black pastor encourages his congregation to love others, even your enemies, even those who do you injustice. This is the catalyst for the main maid, Aibileen, wonderfully brought to screen life by Academy Award nominee Viola Davis ("Doubt"), who eventually speaks out despite the threatening consequences. Though we see the hypocrisy of those who use the church more as a sorority, The Help brings home the need for faith and the application of Christ's teachings. The Help is funny, poignant and inspiring -- one of the best films of the year.
At a recent press junket, I found one question resonated with several of those involved in the production. How does faith play into this film? This is what they said:
-- Viola Davis (Aibileen): "A lot of black people in that day got strength from their Christianity. Because you know the whole power of Christianity is that God loves you no matter what! It's an undeserved love, but it's constant and it's there.... That faith served Aibileen well, because there's no evidence in her life that she is deserving of anything."
-- Kathryn Stockett (author of the novel): "Being a southerner, having grown up in a Christian family, it was so important for me to understand how each character felt and stood with God. Aibileen, a gentler, more traditional character, had a close communication with God. She wrote down her prayers rather than speaking them because she felt like she could go back and erase, edit them in order to get it right. She wanted to make sure she was asking for exactly the right things."
-- Chris Columbus (producer): "I've always found that historically people growing up in a working class, blue-collar environment seem to support the church, because not only does it give them a sense of community, but also a sense of hope. These are people who may not like their jobs, or feel fulfilled by their work. So, their sense of spirituality and community comes on Sunday in church. That's an important part of their lives and we couldn't ignore that fact. It had to be in the movie."
Brunson Green, the film's other producer, said he wants the audience to appreciate "the journey these women went through."
"That world that seems claustrophobic, that seems like it will never change -- it seems somewhat hopeless," Green said. "And yet know that there is a way to make a change, and that you can believe in yourself. When you understand who you are and the people who are against you, when you come to grips with your life, you can move on. I hope people sense that they can do something, that they can change their life."
CONTENT: The Help includes around seven obscenities and six profanities (including God's name abused four times). For more details on the content, visit PreviewOnline.org.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available at Amazon.com.
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