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A 2 Weeks Too Late MOVIE REVIEW: The Help

I watched an advanced screening of the movie, The Help, as a guest of a friend, New York Times best selling author, Denene Millner. As I watched I couldn't help but be taken back and angered over my own origins, or rather those who preceded me. Specifically my father's mother, plucked from school in the 6th grade to help raise the rest of her 12 siblings after her mother was run over by a white male driver. As far as I know it was an auto-pedestrian accident that ended right there in that street and became the endpoint of my grandmother's formal education as a twelve year old. By the time I came along she was long-since retired, the owner of a three houses on the corner lot of a street in Wisconsin that brought me to tears when I laid eyes upon it during a recent visit. My grandmother made the best biscuits on the planet Earth and introduced me to and enabled my only two addictions: soap operas (which I've overcome) and Frosted Flakes (which I will never give up). Thanks to her and her sisters and the strong men in their lives, I have cousins that range into the hundreds and many are old enough to be my parents. Thanksgiving was a grand event that was so large that the smallest of us ended up eating in the living room. But yet and still despite her land owner and landlord status, despite her grand matriarchal status, and despite having long and flowing wavy hair, able to "pass" for white but opting not to, every year a white woman named Helen would come every Thanksgiving to sit at the head of my grandmother's table. She was someone "Granma" told me was good to her. Someone her sisters turned their noses up to and even harassed in the case of one particularly fiery/crazy great aunt. I would soon come to understand that this woman was "The white lady Gladys cleaned up after." She was nice, so I didn't have a problem with her, but I never understood why my grandmother gave her the courtesy in her home that I know she never received in hers. But my grandmother was a great woman --- a greater and tougher person than I'll ever come close to being.

For starters I didn't read the book, The Help. We should all know by now that there is plenty of controversy surrounding it and the subsequent movie that has been spawned by the tome's popularity. After speaking to a couple of accomplished African American authors I do think I have a handle on the crux of the dilemma: people of color not being allowed (by the publishing gatekeepers) to tell their own stories --- to tell them truthfully and from their perspectives: the perspective of personal experience versus the imagination, interview or research-based, free of the mythologized sympathy of "the one Great White Hope". This is a fantastic wish however. One I'm not sure will ever be achieved in my lifetime.

This isn't to deny that key players in the majority haven't stood on principle, risked their lives and joined in civil rights' movements, but history has shown again and again that the under-served have served themselves --- mounted revolutions, set the world afire with ingenious ideas of equality and launched incredibly organized and peaceful movements to affect change. And for the record Change Doesn't Begin with a Whisper, as one of the movie's many advertising taglines reads. It begins with a thunderclap. You might be out of earshot or hardly paying attention, but nonetheless it does.

To quote a friend with 10 best-selling novels under her belt:

"I'd never be able to publish that. They (publishers + agents = gatekeepers) would tell me it wouldn't sell. It would die right there on an editor's slush pile."

As time passes and the desire mounts to be politically correct, there has been a steady softening short of muting of the actual historical facts of eras long gone. The fear is that the wrong message will be sent. It's just too harsh for our kids to be reading "this stuff" in the classroom. We are getting further and further away from our nation's past and refashioning one that actually didn't exist. If you don't believe me just look at what has been done to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. I'm sure in the not too distant future I'll tap my temple for the overhead projection of the news and read a headline stating that slavery in the United States never existed.

This debate with all of its many, many facets will rage on, seemingly forever, unfortunately. But all of the above isn't what this movie review is about.

The Help starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, an absolutely devilish Dallas Bryce-Howard (daughter of a guy named Ron Howard) and Octavia Spencer showcases Jim Crow Jackson Mississippi that revels in being as backwards as it wants to be. "The Help," African American maids, presumably 2nd tier wage earners in their own homes after their husbands, go into the homes of Southern white women, run their homes like well oiled machines, keeping their lives nice and tidy so they can lunch and be social. This includes raising their children at the expense of their own. Seemingly no one that we are shown onscreen takes issue with this and if they do they are too spineless to go against the grain. All except for Skeeter, portrayed with likable indignation by Emma Stone, fresh out of college and painted as having graduated with Northern mores. We get she is suddenly enlightened and now freed of the mentality that has always ruled the town of her birth since the end of the Civil War.

Pursuing her own desires to be great, distraught over what she can no longer idly observe and tortured by the abject and mysterious dismissal by her own family of the maid/mommy who raised her, Skeeter launches her offensive: to write a book of essays about the Help, for the Help from the Help's perspective. If things go the way she plans everyone wins. She will get a legitimate job as a journalist, her friends in the maid/servitude community will have their stories shared with the world and earn a portion of the royalties to boot and the poison that fuels her Jim Crow town will be neutralized, at least a little bit. Let the bridge burning begin!

Like any goal/dream, things don't go exactly according to plan and get downright ugly along the way. Howard's character, Hilly Hollbrook has a chokehold on her way of life and views Skeeter's progressive attitudes as contrary to anything civilized. And it is great watching what happens when Davis' Aibileen and Spencer's Minny come alive. But I won't spoil the movie for you. It did well in it's first week and the usual Oscar buzz with movies such as these is beginning to swirl.

Is it worth a watch? Sure. Make sure you go out to dinner afterward. It is definitely discussion-worthy, no matter what your opinions may be of the book, the movie and the pre Civil Rights Era. The time and the people who populated it are also worth researching and learning about on your own minus the influence of New York or Hollywood.

The one thing I would try ignore is the following line:
"Frying chicken make me feel good about myself."

I don't know any self-respecting person of any complexion who would say this unless they were just plain dumb. Cooking maybe, but not frying chicken.

It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make you angry and it'll make you think. It has been seen before, but this is a worthwhile showing. Out of a total 5 Hollers based on the merit of the screenplay, cinematography, directing and acting, I give the movie a solid 4.

I'm the author of DAD: As Easy As A, B, C! - 26 Dos & Don'ts for Fathers. Click here for my story and the origin of Makes Me Wanna Holler. Do you Tweet? Follow EPayneTheDad on Twitter. Live on Facebook? Like Makes Me Wanna Holler on Facebook.

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