There is much truth in the movie. The dialog, the attitudes, the laws, the houses and decors of the two sides of this story are all spot-on. I saw and heard nothing that jarred me out of that era.
In that respect, the movie took me back and planted my feet and awareness completely back in that era.
I know it well because I lived it.
But while the prejudice is accurate, it is missing the real depth. The movie is no more than a good start toward that end. What it omits is the heart, the core, the utter intractability of the time.
While the movie may tweak our social conscience, for those who know that era, we know the movie is little more than titillation.
It is a sham. It misses the mark. And by a substantial degree.
For one thing, violence then was very real and often very close.
But the movie lets us know of it only indirectly. When Medgar Evers is murdered, we see one small glimpse of the flashing lights of Police, of people running through black neighborhoods, but the most “violence” we actually see is – I’m not kidding – a skinned knee. Instead, the radio has to tell us what is happening.
And, in what would’ve certainly been one of the most powerful scenes in the movie with the revelation of a mother about her son’s death at the hands of a white man, instead we get a cinematic concession to the sensitivities of the box office. Rather than offend the audience, the filmmakers show us they’re more interested in the buck than the truth as the young black man is allowed to die through indifference.
At that moment, I felt disgust, disgust with the film.
At that moment, the movie became a Popsicle.
Violence back then was a very real, very tangible, every day possibility. All it would take would be some small, nearly inconsequential incident and, in a mixed situation, it could explode in seconds from angry words to racial name calling to fists, bottles, blood, guns and death, like putting a match to gasoline-soaked gunpowder.
That was the reality that locked the trap of intractability.
It was the fear of what those words would unleash, that anger, that eruption of savage violence that forced the politeness, the apart-ness, the impossibility of segregation in all its terrible dimensions.
But of this, the movie gives us nothing.
It is chaff, no wheat.
And while the dialog and characters are accurate as far as they go, it stops well short of reality. Skeeter is no more than a note taker. Her failed romance is what? What does it add to the story? What does Skeeter bring to the story other than being the reporter at the right place at the right time? It was the times that inspired the maids, “The Help”, to muscle the courage to tell their stories. Skeeter, like all the other white characters – except one – remains plain and dimensionless. She learns nothing from her experiences. She ends as she began, a reporter in search of a story.
If you take Skeeter out of the film, does the message change in any way?
Skeeter’s mother, however, gives us a glimmer of hope as a character of some real interest. She has an inner turmoil. She struggles, and she fails.
She is a human being, flawed and very real to the time.
But the movie barely tells us any of her story, a story which is the central, core element of the entire, awful deadlock of this society. And it is only in the end, after “The Help” is published and we see its ramifications begin to play out, that we start to get the tiniest of glimpses of her having to choose between what she knows is right versus the life she has enjoyed. It becomes no more than a dull “thud” at the end of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong.
Of those who spoke out, took action and moved civil rights forward in that era, for their courage, I have nothing but the utmost respect and profound admiration. Having lived that era, I know the movie made far too little of the terrible risks they took. It truly had to have been God’s courage that gave them the strength to act, God’s shield to protect them, and God’s grace to see them through.
But in the end, “The Help” cheapens itself to be no more than a movie, one that was calculated, contrived and crafted as box office draw.
The movie is a Popsicle, sugary to make you feel good, and cold to make you cry.
It is pure Hollywood.