"What if you don't like what I have to say about white people?"
This is the premise of The Help, a racially charged drama based on Kathryn Stockett's 2009 best seller of the same name, starring Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis, Golden Globe-nominated actress Emma Stone and scene stealer Octavia Spencer.
Adapted for the big screen by Tate Taylor, The Help tells the tale of three strong women, in the seemingly quiet town of Jackson, Miss. in the early ‘60s. There is Aibileen Clark, a quiet but brave African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children while suffering from the loss of her only son; her sassy friend Minny Jackson, also a maid, whose tendency of being a little too direct causes her to change jobs regularly; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a new college graduate and aspiring writer who returns home only to find out that her beloved maid has suspiciously left.
After an epiphany over a game of bridge, the rebellious young woman decides to write a book exposing the maids' point of view on the work they do, their rich white employers and their daily oppression.
Despite its sensitive subject matter, the movie turns out to be a great piece of storytelling, with great heart, emotion and laughter, without ever going over the top.
The stellar cast does its part perfectly. Davis, as always, gives a powerful performance in her portrayal of the wounded Clark. Although Stone is all over the silver screen these days, her natural charm wins the audience over again; her portrayal of Skeeter brings to light a different, more dramatic aspect of her undeniable acting ability.
Spencer is an actress that you know you have seen somewhere but can't quite put a finger on it. Known for her great comedic timing, the actress inspired the bold character of Jackson, and in The Help, she gives the best performance of her career.
Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek also help bring to life this wonderful story.
The Help is certainly one of the best movies of 2011 so far – Oscar buzz anyone? It treats racial issues differently, and does a great job capturing the time period of segregation in the South. The fact that the main African-American actresses play maids shouldn't evoke controversy, because it accurately depicts a part of United States history. Their characters are not only well-written but amazingly portrayed.
The movie also avoids the cliché "nice white lady saves the day" story – Sandra Bullock, I'm looking at you – and offers finesse instead, showing a white character driven by justice, not pity.