Movie buff I am not – history and good flick to cuddle up under a blanket while watching Netflix I am. The Help is one of my favorites, and it’s based on a book by Kathryn Stockett. The movie is set in Jim-Crow era Jackson, Mississippi and focuses on a small social group of white women and their maids and nannies. The main character, Eugenia “Skeeter” Pheelan, is a recent college grad from Ole Miss who aspires to be a writer. In this journey, she takes up a domestic tips column for a local newspaper and transforms a role with a New York writing agency to ghostwrite a book of the experiences of Black domestic workers in her neighborhood in the wake of the civil rights movement. Read on for a synthesis of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters!
Played by the iconic Viola Davis, Aibileen Clark is a nanny who has spent her whole life raising white children, much to the dismay that they all grow up to be terrible versions of their mothers. In particular, Aibileen takes care of Elizabeth Reefolt’s daughter and here we see her genuine care and compassion for the children she cares for. In her personal life, Aibileen had a son who died in a work accident at 24 years old and goes back to the theme of his death all throughout the movie as a reason she participates in Skeeter’s novel. For her role in The Help, Viola Davis received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and took home a SAG award.
Hilly Holbrook is a nasty woman (and not in the SJW feel-good sense of the term). A social climber, Hilly makes it a point to mistreat her maids, even going so far as to fire Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) for using a restroom inside her house during a big storm. Hilly has a vendetta against another southern socialite, Celia Foote, of whom she suspected of stealing her boyfriend when they were younger. To fight the threat of Hilly, Skeeter and Minny partake in many embarrassing and laugh out loud shenanigans much to Hilly’s dismay.
The heart-wrenching role of Constantine in the cinematic version of The Help really ties humanity to the whole novel. Constantine was the maid that spent many years in the Pheelan household and basically raised Skeeter. Upon returning from college, Skeeter finds out that Constantine has “gone back to Chicago to live with her daughter”. In a tear-jerker scene at the bedside of her dying mother, Mrs. Phelan reveals to Skeeter the real reason why Constantine left, and finds out that she has since passed away. The role of Constantine in The Help shows how inextricably intertwined the lives of whites and blacks were in the deep south.
All in all, the movie The Help is a beautiful portrait of a complex and emotional history of segregation, which didn’t actually take place that long ago. I highly suggest watching it (and re-watching it) for the perfect mix of chuckles, tears, and feeling of justice!