Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's Everything They Said It Is...and More

I finally got a chance to see a movie that could very well net some hardware a week from of last year's best-loved theatrical movies, "The Help."

Got to see it this afternoon because of this afternoon's second annual Black History Movie and Potluck get-together at Omaha's Clair Memorial United Methodist Church...and, let me tell you, "The Help" is everything the critics (and a lot of other moviegoers) said it is.

And more.

In this movie, set in 1963-64 and based on Kathryn Stockett's novel (a book I haven't read yet), recent University of Mississippi grad Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) returned to her home town of Jackson, MS wanting to be a journalist. First gig she got was with the city's paper, The Journal. And Skeeter ended up writing an advice column centering on how to be a better domestic.

Next thing you knew, Skeeter started kicking around the idea of a book telling what a maid's life was like in mid-1960s Mississippi...from the maid's point of view. (Remember: The Magnolia State's laws wouldn't allow anything like that back then.)

At first, only two maids- Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson (Viola Davis and fellow Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer)- were willing to open up to Skeeter. (And for Minny and Aibileen to even open up like this was playing with a raging fire in America's hotbed of hatred and intolerance and racism.)

All through the movie (all 140 minutes of it), I kept thinking about the four remaining Republican challengers for the party's 2012 presidential nomination and how the teachers of hatred in those four men's lives were working to mold those candidates at the very moment in which "The Help" was set.

And all I could do was cringe at the thought.

Hilly Holbrook (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) really made me cringe; so did the cronies she hung around with as they helped to keep racism alive in Jackson. And Skeeter's mom (Allison Janney of West Wing fame) made me cringe, too...especially when she clammed up every time Skeeter asked about the maid (Cicely Tyson as Constantine) who raised our recent Ole Miss grad.

I even cringed when Minny was offered a domestic's job for the rest of her life by her employers, Celia and Johnny Foote.

Minny was the first maid Celia (Jessica Chastain) ever hired...and, the way I took Celia, she was under a ton of pressure to hire a maid. It was...well, Expected. But all through the movie, Minny, among other things, showed Celia how to cook. (And guess who was there when Celia gave birth?)

Let me tell you, I cheered for BOTH Aibileen and Skeeter...and I also liked it when other maids finally decided to contribute stories to the book Eugenia was trying to put together.

One message I thought "The Help" kept shouting out was one about courage.

It takes courage to speak up when people are constantly trying to fit you into one social straitjacket after another. It also takes courage to listen to people who've been forced into those social straitjackets.

The result of that speaking up (as well as of that listening) feels empowering.

And that's the biggest lesson "The Help" can teach us...especially at a time when this country's Republicans would like nothing better than to take America back to 1612...let alone 1912 or 1963.

When "The Help" came out, some reviewers took a look at its predominantly female cast and immediately labeled it a "chick flick." (And yep, the offending journalists made a huge mistake in doing so.)

At a time when Willard Romney runs around saying his birth city (Detroit, MI) should go bankrupt and has repeatedly said that America's auto industry- the very profession that enabled his father George (a 1968 presidential hopeful and, later, HUD secretary) to put food on the table- should crash and burn; at a time when Newton Gingrich keeps questioning inner-city children's work ethic; at a time when Rick Santorum still questions Barack Obama's religion, among other things; and at a time when Ron Paul and his son Rand want to see the private sector go back to discriminating against people on the basis of skin color, we need to take a look at the time in which a movie like "The Help" was set and say, loud and clear: "NEVER AGAIN!"