starring Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Ahna O’Reilly, Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Mary Steenburgen, Emma Stone, Cicely Tyson and Mike Vogel
written and directed by Tate Taylor
Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is set in Mississippi just at the start of the Civil Rights movement. It is a window into racist, segregated southern society of the time seen through the experience of black women domestics. It is a powerful story and well acted, and often difficult to watch. More than once I was squirming in my seat - or, rather, on my tatami mat - at witnessing the cruelty, stupidity and evil of it. Viola Davis is great. When I watched it I didn’t realize that Bryce Dallas Howard is Ron Howard’s daughter, so I had to rewind and watch her again. The only other time I’ve seen her on film is in a cameo in a crowd scene in Apollo 13 (1995). She was a teenager then.
The interesting thing about black domestics in white homes is that it was continuation of the slavery-era practice of black mammies raising white plantation children, like what we see in Gone With the Wind (1939). Of course slavery is long gone by the time this story is set, but these domestics were working for less than minimum wage and were still treated like indentured servants, or serfs.
Jessica Chastain plays a liberated, college-educated white girl trying to write a book of black domestics’ experience. The women are suspicious and terrified because their position in society is so fragile. Kind of like how I feel working in Japan.
My favorite line: “Love and hate are two horns on the same goat, and you need a goat.” It reminded me of Juliet’s lament in Romeo and Juliet: “My only love sprung from my only hate.” Do girls really talk like that in private? Boys’ private boy talk, not surprisingly, is dominated by sex, but I don’t believe the same of girls.