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December 5, 2012 / magickittenblogs

The Help, or Why I Will Never Look At A Pie In The Same Way Again

The-help-pie3

Omnomnomnom… There’s nothing like a delicious slice of homemade vanilla and chocolate pie. Or, in the case of The Help, there’s nothing like a big slice of humble pie.

I teach a unit of work about discrimination and abuses of human rights, particularly racism, and I was wondering what I could use to illustrate ordinary people trying to resist discrimination, when it occurred to me to try using some clips from The Help (2011).  Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 60’s, it is particularly interesting because it highlights the wide variety of social and cultural prejudices people faced, especially women.  Especially black women. Some of my students were horrified (much to my relief) that some people still hold those attitudes today.

I found the film particularly powerful because it does focus almost exclusively on women, their behaviour, attitudes, prejudices, even victimisation of other women, something which is rarely explored and portrayed.  It also shows women who take risks and make a difference, despite the difficulties facing them.  The central characters are Skeeter (Eugenia) who returns to Jackson after university and, after her time away, realising how appalling black women are treated by her family and “friends”.  She befriends Abeline, the maid working for her friend Elizabeth, and persuades her to share her stories. Skeeter plans to publish these, to show what life is really like for the maids of Jackson.

It’s a difficult road for all involved. Skeeter finds out things about her mother, and “friends”, that are hard to deal with as their racist attitudes are exposed.  The maids find life getting harder too, with Abeline and Minnie risking so much in order to tell the truth.  Minnie loses her job with Miss Hilly Holbrook, having been caught trying to use the inside bathroom during a hurrican rather than going outside, then takes her revenge with a pie made to her own secret recipe.  However, rather than eating humble pie, Hilly Holbrook becomes a dangerous enemy to Minnie, and to Skeeter too when she fails to fall in line with the other white well-to-do women.

I found The Help funny, moving, touching and even inspiration at times.  The perseverence of Skeeter, Abeline and Minnie, against very stacked odds, made me root for them all the way.  The scenes with Abeline and Elizabeth’s daughter, who she looks after, were especially sweet, as Abeline demonstrates huge commitment despite the awful way she is treated. If I had a criticism, it would be that the film’s narrow focus means that a number of issues are ony touched on fleetingly – the amount the maids were paid, quality of housing, institutional racism – but nonetheless, the message is clear.  Racism is a cultural phenomenon, it can’t be changed overnight, but it can be slowly chipped away at, and conditions can be improved.

And if it can move a teenager to tears during a lesson, in a full classroom, then it must be doing something right.  Mmmhmm.

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