With its story placed at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in rural Mississippi the movie tells the story of Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), who seeks to write a book from the perspective of the help. “The help” are all African American women, who with the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, are given a voice, but yet still remain voiceless by the end of the film.
Directed and written by Tate Taylor, as adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help weaves a good story bringing the backdrop of life in the 60’s to life. Taylor does justice to the portrayal of black women in the 60’s and how they raised white children, often neglected by their own parents, and yet often grew up only to continue the racial bigotry that they grew up in, despite the color of the women who raised them. “You is smart, you is pretty, and you is important” is a mantra repeated throughout the movie, told by black women to their charges. The dichotomy of this statement to these children, who in most cases, likely grew up to continue the bigotry of the time, is not lost on the audience.
Emma Stone does a fair job in her portrayal of Skeeter Phelan, she is believable, but only to a point. While she is the star of the movie and the driving force that brings the women together to tell their story, it is the supporting roles that provide the most memorable and Oscar worthy performances.
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have both been nominated for Oscar awards and justly so. Spencer plays Minny Jackson, a women who is fired for using the bathroom of her white employer. She is also the wife of an abusive husband and while she herself is a powerful character it is Spencer’s believability that brings her to life. Spencer has been winning several awards this season for her work in The Help and rightfully so. However, it is Davis’ portrayal of Aibileen Clark that brings home the truth of character, the strength of performance that makes The Help worthy of its nomination for Best Picture. One moment most stands out in Davis’ work and that is the retelling of how Aibileen Clarks’ son dies. That is a defining moment for an actor and Davis brings this moment home with honesty and sincerity that is rarely seen these days on film.
While The Help may not win all the awards it is nominated for, it should not be missed. This is a work that bares notice and audiences should see it, if not for its message, then for the craftsmanship of the performances from two actors, who will likely give the world more worthy performances.