People are people in this Best Picture nomination
by Sarah Fisher
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” These words define the heart and soul of The Help. This isn’t just another book-turned-movie; this isn’t another costume drama in hopes of Oscar glory. This is about truth and bravery in a time where it was nowhere to be found.
The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s—a volatile time in United States history, with the country on the cusp of widespread change. It is our narrators who show us the frontlines of this conflict and the way it was in the American South for race relations, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and racism. Through the eyes of three very different and distinct women, the book and the film grab and hold you in their battle for equality.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), two black maids, join forces with Skeeter, a young white, prominent woman in society, to complete one of the most dangerous things anyone could do in Jackson: write the truth about their lives. The talent of Emma Stone as the awkward, forward-thinking Skeeter sets the tone for the film. A recent university graduate and aspiring editor, Skeeter does not agree with the intolerance and racism in the South. The tricky part is that she is going against her own friends and even her own family.
But it is the stories of Aibileen and Minny that bring the narrative to life. Davis brings Aibileen to the forefront of the story, supplying a depth and heart to the character that would be difficult to translate from the novel to the screen, especially in the final few moments of the film. She deserves her Best Actress nomination.
Spencer, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, wins us over from the start as the incorrigible Minny who constantly steals the show. It is her banter with Celia Foote (Best Supporting Actress nominee Jessica Chastain) that shows us the depth of Minny’s character: a no-nonsense, hot-headed woman who cares deeply about the people who gain her trust. It is also the fodder of some of the most funny and endearing moments of the film. From her witty back talk to her employers, to the “Terrible Awful,” (we won’t give away the reference, but see photo for a clue!) Spencer deftly brings this spitfire of a character to life.
Through their struggles and hardships we are given an unhindered view of what it was like to be black, white, racist (and not) in the heart of segregated Mississippi, and just how hard it was to be different from the accepted norm. This is most notably seen in the character of Hilly Holbrook (played by the inimitable Bryce Dallas Howard) who single-handedly makes life a constant struggle for anyone who doesn’t bend to her whim, leading to some horrid and hilarious situations. “What Hilly wants, Hilly gets,” is the standard in Jackson, and when Skeeter strays from this idea, Hilly’s manipulation, vindictiveness, and want to destroy anyone who disobeys is fully revealed. Howard plays not just the villain of the film, but a loathsome human being and the most fun and infuriating to watch. It’s a shame that Howard was not given an Oscar nod for this fine performance.
This film is a comedy, a drama, and a historical piece all in one. It is about intolerance, acceptance, and love without borders. It is about being true to yourself despite the obstacles and hostility from friends, neighbours, and society as a whole, all the while making you think, laugh, and cry throughout. It’s a celebration of individualism and the great things people can accomplish when they put aside all of their differences and see each other for who we are: people. We are all just people.