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Why The Help Matters

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood August 10, 2011 at 2:00AM

After a long summer of superhero dudes and exploding machines, women are finally getting a one for our team. Actually, a second one. Remember Bridesmaids from May? Doesn't that seem sooo long ago? I don't want to complain too much (well, I do) but there have been multiple (I don't care to count) films targeted and starring at guys that open wide. And we get two.
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After a long summer of superhero dudes and exploding machines, women are finally getting a one for our team. Actually, a second one. Remember Bridesmaids from May? Doesn't that seem sooo long ago? I don't want to complain too much (well, I do) but there have been multiple (I don't care to count) films targeted and starring at guys that open wide. And we get two.

But I'll take our two over their 22 cause both have been awesome.

I was nervous about The Help. Women centric film directed and written by a dude who has one small and not really successful film under his belt. But I was wrong. Tate Taylor did a great job. Because he let the story and the women drive the film.

I'm not going to mince words here. I loved the book The Help and I loved the movie The Help. The movie was so faithful to the book and even improved it a bit giving some redemption and a "you go girl" moment to Allison Janney's character of Skeeter's mom.

For those of you who have been under a rock for the last couple of years the film is based on the highly successful novel written by Kathryn Stockett about women in Jackson Mississippi circa 1963. Not just any women - the white women and the African American women who are their maids and nannies. Skeeter played by Emma Stone gets the maids led by Aibileen (Viola Davis) to tell their honest experiences of working for the white ladies of Jackson, MS.

This film is a civil rights story told from the perspective of the women whose voices we seldom hear in the movies. The heart of the story is the experiences of African American women. That's reason one why this movie is matters. A big mainstream, Hollywood movie that tells the story of African American women. This movie could have come off as racist and hateful, but it's not. It's a movie full of love, and a movie full of unfairness. It's unfair that these are the jobs that are available to the African American women. It's full of love because these women overcome the racism they experience everyday in the homes of their employers to give love and guidance to the children in their care. It also exposes how racism and bigotry are easily passed down through the generations and shows us one young woman who tries to break the cycle.

It's also a film about courage. I know this is fiction, but when Aibileen stands up and tells her story to Skeeter she provides the safety and the leadership for the other women to do the same. When one person stands up they can be ignored, but when many do, there is no way to be dismiss the problem. But it is that first woman. That first woman who says this must change. That is the woman who makes change happen.

This film matters because when was the last time that you saw more than one African American woman in a big Hollywood movie like this one? (I'm not saying that there are not movies that star African American actresses. What I am saying is that many do not open on 2,500 screens.) When was the last time you saw both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer all over the press talking about a big Hollywood movie? I've seen Emma Stone (who plays Skeeter and is wonderful) doing some press, but the most interesting people talking about this film are Davis and Spencer. And they are everywhere.

But the film is not without controversy. The controversy stems from the fact that people are sick of seeing African American women restricted to playing maids. Solid point. It would be great to have movies about women where there were no weddings and no women playing maids. But Viola Davis, the star of this film who just killed (and by killed I mean she will be fighting her Doubt co-star Meryl Streep for the Oscar) as Aibileen responded to EW: "I've played lawyers and doctors who are less explored and more of an archetype than these maids." Let's be real. Davis wants to work and she wants to work on good films. It's a part that will get her into the Oscar hunt again. And if I had to guess, I would say this is one of the biggest parts she has had in a long time. That sucks because she is so damn good in everything, and that's just the way it is. I want that to change. I also hated that Sissy Spacek at 61 had to play a dottering old woman.

This film also matters because most civil rights feature films have been about men. Mississippi Burning, Malcolm X, Ghosts of Mississippi, In the Heat of the Night.

Where are the women? The only one that was a feature release that I could find was The Long Walk Home.

It's about time women were front and center in a civil rights story.

Lastly, this is not a take your medicine kind of do gooder movie. It is very enjoyable and about something important. So go and see it and show that we want to see more big Hollywood films that star African American women. Octavia Spencer the co-star of the film as Minny Jackson (another Oscar worthy performance) said it best in a recent interview with this site where she encouraged women and men to see the film: "be a decision maker, be a part of the solution." Your ticket purchase can make a difference. Don't forget that.

Here's a video on Mary J. Blige singing the song from the film The Living Proof

This article is related to: Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney


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