Irreverent Stereotype or True in Composite ...
Or does it really matter? Those were different times in a desperate South, and consequently, this is a story that aches to be told. My first-hand perspective of times in the South, in those transformative days of the early 1960's, is that there was enough truth in Director / Screenwriter Tate Taylor's treatment of the Kathryn Stockett titular Novel to tell this story just as she told it, and it was a compelling account of egregious bad behavior.
I grew up as a child with a number of Black women maids, also known as the "Colored Help," but there was a difference in our household with that of the composite of the respective parties within "The Help" - "the help" and their respective boss ladies. Conversely, my mother worked a full time job, was kind, caring - a Christian woman. Her maids - one was white - were treated with respect, as equals; however, as employees. As someone who was quite young in the days before the assassination of Civil Rights Advocate Medgar Evers, and knew of some Southern women, quite unlike my mother, who did have "colored help," I am certain there is some veracity to the Kathryn Stockett tale, now in celluloid.
For all those Southern women, who pretended to be more than they could ever hope to become, and all those Black women, who cleaned up their many messes, this film had to be made.
"The Help" was filmed in, and around, the place of its story's origin - Jackson, Mississippi. The flavor of some of those people, at that time, was so thick with the picture of a certain geographical reality that this film's strength, its compelling purpose, is the transformation of two very different People, irrevocably intertwined, and forever changed.
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia: The heart of the South was the geographical flash point, where the leading edge battle in the war on racism was fought, and some say, where it was first eradicated; however, in 1964, there was much work to be done.
"The Help" is the story of the beginning of that transformation told in the voice, as seen through the eyes, of the courageous Black women, who served at the pleasure of a group of sad pretentious White women in Jackson, Mississippi.
Why so courageous?
Because these Black women reluctantly defied the "Jim Crow Laws" of Mississippi, which would have imprisoned them, as well as any Whites, who sought to suggest that members of both races were equals in the sight of the Law, as they were in the eyes of God. The civil social environment, which we all take for granted now, took much courage to transform then.
In all remarkable change, there must be a transformative catalyst. In "The Help," that catalyst was Skeeter Phelen, played by Emma Stone, who, because of equal parts of ambition, social conscience and unresolved angst, originated the idea of the Black maids' tale, and also edited its text, while constructing it as a literary vehicle. While Skeeter was a strong alternative to the pathetic, overprivileged and blatantly self-serving White women portrayed in this Tate Taylor film, she was also a product of her environment, yet quite original - a breath of "fresh air."
Emma Stone's empathetic Skeeter was the perfect counterbalance to the story's antagonist Hilly Holbrook, a verifiable, prototypical bitch of a White Southern woman, excellently portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard (yeah, "Opie's" kid). You hated her character, but if you love good movies, you realize how integral her fine acting job was to the success of this film. It was not only that she was a "Godless woman" as was told by one of the film's protagonists, Aibileen Clark, played by hardworking character actor Viola Davis, Hilly was also the petty self-anointed leader of the young "Junior League" gaggle of White women. Every poorly thought-out movement has an overbearing leader, and Hilly well filled that void.
Hilly Holbrook always stood tall against both good sense and decent civil behavior, and was just charismatic enough to drag her gaggle of clucking White women in whichever direction she solely determined to be prudent. There is an exception to every rule, and in this case, Skeeter was too smart and independent minded to be lured into Hilly's manipulative trap.
The other exception was Celia Foote, played by Jessica Chastain, who longed to be included as one of the proper young Southern ladies of Jackson Mississippi. Celia was the product of a poor Southern farming family and could not shake the label of "White Trash," irrespective of the nagging fact (especially in Hilly's eyes)that she married well. Her second black mark, with the pretentious friends of Hilly was her physical appearance, which was even more damning. She was stunningly beautiful, resembling Marilyn Monroe in appearance, and remarkably, in persona. As far as the vacuous flock in Hilly's charge was concerned, Celia had scandal written on her person, from head to toe, and she was "untouchable."
Exclusion is the theme of this story, whether by racist ideology or bigoted stupidity, Hilly Holbrook and her sad followers represented the ignorance of division. This is not only a symptom of racism, but the bigoted segregation of those who are considered as inferiors, such as Celia Foote. This behavior of such a narrow-minded perspective is hurtful to the victims, but moreover, serves to retard the mental acuity of the perpetrators. This is true in all walks of life, in all regions of this world, so it is most special when a fine film such as "The Help" captures this real malady of poor spirit, and similarly makes it entertaining, and on this rich occasion - "darkly" humorous.