Last night I watched a movie call The Help, a story set in the early 1960s revolving around two African-American maids, Aibeleen (played by Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer, above right) along with Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), the daughter of a prominent white family in Jackson, Mississippi.
The film was based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett and I have to say it was thought-provoking stuff; essentially through Skeeter’s attempt to write about life as a coloured maid, the movie explores long-held and deeply ingrained racial prejudices and barriers.
The white socialite Hilly represents the intransigence of the age... but what struck me is that however appalling such a character may appear now, she was probably representative of the majority at the time... yet that “time” is only half a century ago...
Let me say that I am no expert in the subject... but I found the film just as compelling as the popcorn was irresistible, but it was very hard not to at least try and imagine what it must have been like to live in a world where segregation was prevalent. The bravery shown by the maids in telling their stories was powerfully realised... the need to work was a strong reason for tacit tolerance of their lot in life, so the strength needed to even consider breaking the proverbial shackles of discrimination must have been immense.
I loved the portrayal of the white “misfit” Celia Foote (pictured above) by Jessica Chastain; she was almost an outcast, yet her innocent acceptance of Minny as an equal was genuinely heart-warming. And the ultimate recognition by Skeeter’s mother of what her daughter had achieved with her book was a sign that times were (as Bob Dylan would say...) “a-changing”.
Arguably the “real life” parallel is the story of Rosa Parks, who (in December 1955) refused to give up her seat on a bus to make way for a white passenger. Nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin had done something similar – ironically on the same bus system in Montgomery, Alabama – nine months earlier but Colvin was fifteen... and pregnant... Parks (who is in the dark coat in the photo below) was 42 and perhaps a more identifiable (or acceptable) symbol of defiance. Her actions led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which 90% of local African-Americans refused to travel by bus... The boycott lasted over a year and ended in desegregation with the company’s revenue having fallen by 80%.
The boycott was overseen by a young Baptist minister, who was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association... his name was Martin Luther King Jr. and I suppose the rest as they say...
Rosa Parks died, aged 92, in 2005 and this blog salutes the courage of the woman who was “tired of giving in”...
All my own work... almost.