Civil rights sincerity

A lightweight look at racism in ‘The Help’

Cicely Tyson and Lila Rogers star in The Help.

For an example of good intentions undermined by a woozy concept, look no further than The Help, a lightweight account of racism in 1962 Mississippi. Unlike more brutal films like Mississippi Burning or Ghosts of Mississippi, this one takes a softer and often comic approach as it portrays the plight of black maids who suffer under the casual racism and genteel abuse of wealthy young wives and matrons. Underpaid and overworked, these maids juggle the endless demands of childcare, cooking, cleaning, and serving a table while their haughty employers host bridge clubs or dash out for a tasty lunch.

Surveying this injustice is the improbably named Skeeter (Emma Stone, Crazy, Stupid, Love) a young woman who has just returned from four years at university and is seeing her hometown of Jackson with fresh and very critical  eyes. Skeeter aspires to be a journalist and maybe a novelist. Challenged by a New York editor (Mary Steenburgen), she decides to write from the point of view of these exploited black women who lovingly raise white babies, only to eventually watch them transform into the privileged class that seems destined to forever treat them with patronizing cruelty.

Skeeter is still close friends with a pack of young debutantes who are in their first throes of marriage and motherhood, and she is torn between comfortable old loyalties and her awakening liberal conscience. On the other side of Jackson’s racial divide are two maids in particular, Aibileen and Minny (Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer), who eventually agree to speak candidly to Skeeter even though they are putting their jobs – and possibly even their lives – at risk. All of this gritty, heartfelt sincerity is regularly contrasted with the high-society shenanigans of Skeeter’s soon-to-be-erstwhile friends, who are much more interested in their own social pleasures than the happiness of their toddlers.

By focusing on Jackson’s domestic realm, Help threatens to become a mere chick flick, complete with dating dramas for Skeeter and cartoonish portrayals of the shallow, self-absorbed debs. Racism is regularly portrayed, but the tone sometimes shifts awkwardly between comedic slapstick and a few moments of real horror (such as the assassination of black activist Medgar Evers, which is covered on a TV newscast). The film’s point of view is superficially interesting, but pulls the old Hollywood trick of playing to a white perspective: it’s a civil rights drama watered down into a feel-good movie that congratulates the audience for being tolerant and progressive. M

 

The Help ★★3/4

Starring Emma Stone

PG 13 137 minutes

Continues  at the Odeon

Just Posted

Rockin’ steady with Phonosonics

Victoria roots reggae band looks to attract wider audience with appearance on Rise Up TV show

Sooke man pursues music for a lifetime

Al Pease has been playing music for over 65 years

Django jazz live in Oak Bay Saturday

Pearl Django performs Saturday, April 28 in the Upstairs Lounge, Oak Bay Recreation Centre,

REVIEW: Salt Baby’s search for identity begins at the Belfry

New stage show has plenty of story to work with, but the characters sometimes get lost in the mix

Rick Scott and Nico Rhodes bring ‘Roots & Grooves‘ to Duncan Showroom

There are 40 years between their ages but who cares when there’s this much talent going around

Shania Twain visits Canadian Armed Forces base in B.C.

Canadian country icon thanks members of CFB Esquimalt for their service

Ballet Victoria soirée fundraiser a prelude to final show of season

Company winds up its 15th season in the city with Peter Pan next month

Dinosaurs taking centre stage at National Geographic event

NatGeo Live series finale May 2 at the Royal features renowned paleontologist

Celebrate Earth Day with guided walks through Beacon Hill Park

Local naturalists explore Garry oak ecosystem on Camas Day

Shania Twain set to visit CFB Esquimalt

Country music star is meeting members of the Canadian Armed Forces

Blue Bridge Theatre kicks off it 10th season with fun Russian farce

Unique spin on Chekov classic promises surprises

Cochrane alters lyrics to honour Humboldt Broncos

Rock singer, performing at the Elements Casino grand reopening May 5, changes up ‘Big League’

Who’s afraid of Friday the 13th?

Is friggatriskaidekaphobia harmless fun, or should we be proceeding with caution today?

Scottish Country Dance Society members hone their skills

Annual workshops and ball a success, regular classes resume Tuesday

Most Read