The Help (film)
The Help is a 2011 period drama film written and directed by Tate Taylor and adapted from Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast, including Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone. The film and novel recount the story of young white woman and aspiring journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. The story focuses on her relationship with two black maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. In an attempt to become a legitimate journalist and writer, Skeeter decides to write a book from the point of view of the maids, exposing the racism they are faced with as they work for white families. Black domestic workers in 1960s America were referred to as "the help", hence the title of the putative journalistic expose, the novel and the film.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tate Taylor|
|Screenplay by||Tate Taylor|
|Based on||The Help|
by Kathryn Stockett
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Hughes Winborne|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios|
|Box office||$216.6 million|
DreamWorks Pictures acquired the screen rights to Stockett's novel in March 2010 and quickly commissioned the film with Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Brunson Green as producers. The film's casting began later that month, with principal photography following four months after in Mississippi. The film is an international co-production between companies based in the United States, India, and the United Arab Emirates.
Touchstone Pictures released The Help worldwide, with a general theatrical release in North America on August 10, 2011. The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving positive reviews and grossing $216 million in worldwide box office. The Help received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Davis, and Best Supporting Actress for both Chastain and Spencer, with the latter winning the award. The film also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
In 1963, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is an African-American maid in Jackson, Mississippi. Utilizing intermittent first person voiceover, Aibileen's perspective is shared directly with viewers and with aspiring writer Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent graduate of Ole Miss and a friend of Aibileen's employer and fellow socialite Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly). Aibileen cares for the Leefolts' daughter, Mae Mobley (portrayed by Emma and Eleanor Henry), whom Elizabeth neglects. Aibileen's best friend is the plain-spoken Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who works for Mrs. Walters (Sissy Spacek), the mother of Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), the leader of the women's socialite group.
Skeeter is uncomfortable with the racist attitudes of her socialite acquaintances towards their maids. She is shocked when Hilly forwards a letter to the Home Sanitation Initiative to install separate bathrooms for the help. Skeeter later learns that her mother Charlotte (Allison Janney) fired her childhood maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) for unknown reasons.
During a terrible storm, Minny refuses to go out to use the help's toilet and uses the guest's bathroom, resulting in her getting fired by Hilly, who then slanders her name with claims of theft, rendering her essentially unemployable.
Minny eventually finds a job with Celia (Jessica Chastain), the wife of Johnny Foote (Mike Vogel), Hilly's former beau. Celia treats Minny with respect though at first Minny feels uncomfortable. The two become friends through Minny's cooking lessons, though they keep Minny's employment secret from Johnny. Celia suffers a miscarriage and reveals to Minny that she has suffered three previous miscarriages. Minny comes upon Skeeter's visiting Aibileen and joins in the book project effort. Skeeter is advised by her book editor at Harper & Row, Elaine Stein (Mary Steenburgen), that the stories of two maids are not enough, but potential retribution from the maids’ employers hinders others from joining the project. Aibileen tells Skeeter about the pain she experiences about her son being fatally crushed while on his job. Aibileen has struggled to find closure from his death, and believes that helping with the book will enable her to find that closure.
Hilly refuses to lend money to her replacement maid, Yule May (Aunjanue Ellis), who is struggling to send her twin sons to college. One day, she discovers a discarded ring and pawns it. However, Yule May is brutally arrested after Hilly reports the theft. Following this and the assassination of Medgar Evers, more maids come forward with their stories, believing the book would help put an end to the brutality against African-Americans.
Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny fear that the maids' stories will be recognized. Minny then reveals the "terrible awful" that she did to Hilly: following her termination, Minny baked her renowned chocolate pie and gave it to Hilly. Minny, however, prevented Mrs. Walters from having a slice, and revealed that she baked her own excrement into the pie after Hilly had finished two slices of it. Its inclusion in the book would prompt Hilly to crusade in denial that the book is about Jackson.
Skeeter confronts her mother Charlotte about Constantine's termination. Charlotte reveals that during a lunch with the local chapter of the Daughters of America, Constantine's daughter Rachel (LaChanze) arrived. Rachel disobeyed Charlotte's orders of entering through the kitchen and embarrassed her. In order to save face, Charlotte fired Constantine and ordered them both to leave. Shortly afterward, Rachel took Constantine to Chicago, where she later died. Charlotte had every intention of bringing Constantine back to Jackson.
The book is published anonymously, and it is a success. Minny reveals the "terrible awful" to Celia, who finally sees Hilly as the manipulative bully that she is. Celia lets on that she knows about the "terrible awful" by writing a cheque to one of Hilly's charity groups made out to "Two Slice Hilly". Incensed, Hilly confronts and attempts to intimidate Skeeter through threat of legal proceedings, but she reminds Hilly that "that" is in chapter 12. Charlotte then intervenes, lets on that she knows about the "terrible awful" and orders Hilly off the property. Charlotte and Skeeter reconcile when Charlotte tells her how proud she is about her courage, the book and the job offer in New York City.
Johnny approaches Minny and reveals that he knew that she'd been working at his house, how appreciative he is about her friendship with Celia, how it saved her life, and that she has permanent job security. This act of kindness gives Minny the courage to take her children away from her abusive husband and never look back.
In an attempt to seek revenge for helping Skeeter, Hilly pressures Elizabeth to terminate Aibileen, with Hilly present and trying to frame Aibileen for theft. But Aibileen stands up to Hilly, calling her a godless woman, never satisfied until she gets what she wants. Hilly breaks down and storms out, and Elizabeth orders Aibileen to leave. Aibileen bids farewell to Elizabeth's daughter and pleads with Elizabeth to give her daughter a chance, as Elizabeth begins to cry. Aibileen reflects on the ordeal and finds closure. She looks to her future as a writer.
- Ahna O'Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt
- Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters
- Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth
- Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote
- Cicely Tyson as Constantine Bates
- Anna Camp as Jolene French
- Brian Kerwin as Robert Phelan
- Aunjanue Ellis as Yule May Davis
- Ted Welch as William Holbrook
- Wes Chatham as Carlton Phelan
- Shane McRae as Raleigh Leefolt
- Roslyn Ruff as Pascagoula
- Tarra Riggs as Gretchen
- LaChanze as Rachel Bates
- Mary Steenburgen as Elaine Stein
- Leslie Jordan as Mr. Blackly
- David Oyelowo as Preacher Green
- Dana Ivey as Grace Higginbotham
- Tiffany Brouwer as Rebecca
- Carol Lee as Pearly
- Carol Sutton as Cora
- Millicent Bolton as Callie
- Ashley Johnson as Mary Beth Caldwell
- Nelsan Ellis as Henry
- Emma and Eleanor Henry as Mae Mobley Leefolt
- Shane Pengelly as Himself
In December 2009, Variety reported that Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe would produce a film adaptation of The Help, under their production company 1492 Pictures. Brunson Green of Harbinger Productions also co-produced. The film was written and directed by Tate Taylor, who optioned film rights to the book before its publication. DreamWorks acquired the film rights to the novel in March 2010. Reliance Entertainment and Participant Media co-produced the film.
The first casting news for the production came in March 2010, when it was reported that Stone was attached to play the role of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. Other actors were since cast, including Davis as Aibileen; Howard as Hilly Holbrook, Jackson's snooty town ringleader; Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Skeeter's mother; and Lowell as Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter's boyfriend and a senator's son. Leslie Jordan appears as the editor of the fictional local newspaper, The Jackson Journal. Mike Vogel plays the character Johnny Foote. Octavia Spencer portrays Minny. Spencer inspired the character of Minny in Stockett's novel and voiced her in the audiobook version.
Filming began in July 2010 and extended through October. The town of Greenwood, Mississippi, was chosen to portray 1960s-era Jackson, and producer Green said he had expected to shoot "95 percent" of the film there. Parts of the film were also shot in the real-life Jackson, as well as in nearby Clarksdale and Greenville. One of the few locations that existed in 1963 Jackson, the book and the film is Jackson landmark Brent's Drugs, which dates to 1946. Other locations that can still be found in Jackson include the New Capitol Building and the Mayflower Cafe downtown. Scenes set at the Jackson Journal office were shot in Clarksdale at the building which formerly housed the Clarksdale Press Register for 40 years until April 2010.
The Help was the most significant film production in Mississippi since O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) "Honestly, my heart would be broken if it were set anywhere but Mississippi", Stockett wrote in an e-mail to reporters. In order to convince producers to shoot in Greenwood, Tate Taylor and others had previously come to the town and scouted out locations; at his first meeting with DreamWorks executives, he presented them with a photo album of potential filming spots in the area. The state's tax incentive program for filmmakers was also a key enticement in the decision.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distributed The Help worldwide through the studio's Touchstone Pictures banner. On October 13, 2010, Disney gave the film a release date of August 12, 2011. On June 30, 2011, the film's release date was rescheduled two days earlier to August 10, 2011.
The film was released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital download on December 6, 2011. The release was produced in three different physical packages: a three-disc combo pack (Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy); a two-disc combo pack (Blu-ray and DVD); and a single-disc DVD. It was also released as a digital download option in both standard and high definition. The DVD version includes two deleted scenes and The Living Proof music video by Mary J. Blige. The digital download version includes the same features as the DVD version, plus one additional deleted scene. Both the two-disc and three-disc combo packs include the same features as the DVD version, as well as "The Making of 'The Help': From Friendship to Film", "In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi", and three deleted scenes with introductions by director Taylor.
In North America, on its opening day (Wednesday, August 10, 2011), it topped the box office with $5.54 million. It then added $4.33 million on Thursday, declining only 21 percent, a two-day total to $9.87 million. On its first weekend, the film grossed $26.0 million, coming in second place behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes. However, during its second weekend, the film jumped to first place with $20.0 million, declining only 23 percent, the smallest drop among films playing nationwide. The film crossed the $100 million mark on its 21st day of release, becoming one of only two titles in August 2011 that achieved this. On its fourth weekend (Labor Day three-day weekend), it became the first film since Inception (2010), to top the box-office charts for three consecutive weekends. Its four-day weekend haul of $19.9 million was the fourth largest for a Labor-day weekend. Notably, The Help topped the box office for 25 days in a row. This was the longest uninterrupted streak since The Sixth Sense (35 days), which was also a late summer release, in 1999.
To promote the film, TakePart hosted a series of three writing contests. Rebecca Lubin, of Mill Valley, California, who has been a nanny for nearly two decades won the recipe contest. Darcy Pattison's "11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph" won "The Help" Children's Story Contest with her story about a tenacious young girl who refuses to take a good photograph while her father is away "soldiering". After being chosen by guest judge and children's-book author Lou Berger, the story was professionally illustrated. The final contest was about "someone who inspired you". Genoveva Islas-Hooker charmed guest judge Doc Hendley (founder of Wine to Water) with her story, A Heroine Named Confidential. A case manager for patients with HIV, Islas-Hooker was consistently inspired by one special individual who never gave up the fight to live.
The Help received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 76% of 222 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.02/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Though arguably guilty of glossing over its racial themes, The Help rises on the strength of its cast—particularly Viola Davis, whose performance is powerful enough to carry the film on its own." Metacritic, a review aggregator which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 62 based on 41 reviews. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was an "A+" on an A+ to F scale.
Tom Long from The Detroit News remarked about the film: "Appealling, entertaining, touching and perhaps even a bit healing, The Help is an old-fashioned grand yarn of a film, the sort we rarely get these days." Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald gave the film three out of four stars and said it "will make you laugh, yes, but it can also break your heart. In the dog days of August moviegoing, that's a powerful recommendation."
A more mixed review from Karina Longworth of The Village Voice said: "We get a fairly typical Hollywood flattening of history, with powerful villains and disenfranchised heroes." Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail, giving the film two out of four stars, said: "Typically, this sort of film is an earnest tear-jerker with moments of levity. Instead, what we have here is a raucous rib-tickler with occasional pauses for a little dramatic relief." Referring to the film as a "big, ole slab of honey-glazed hokum", The New York Times noted that "save for Ms. Davis's, however, the performances are almost all overly broad, sometimes excruciatingly so, characterized by loud laughs, bugging eyes and pumping limbs."
Some of the negative reviews criticized the film for its inability to match the quality of the book. Chris Hewitt of the St. Paul Pioneer Press said about the film: "Some adaptations find a fresh, cinematic way to convey a book's spirit but The Help doesn't."
Many critics praised the performances of Davis and Spencer. Wilson Morales of Blackfilm.com gave the movie three out of four stars and commented, "With powerful performances given by Viola Davis and scene stealer Octavia Spencer, the film is an emotionally moving drama that remains highly entertaining." David Edelstein from New York magazine commented that, "The Help belongs to Viola Davis."
Ida E. Jones, the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, released an open statement criticizing the film, stating "[d]espite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers." The ABWH accused both the book and the film of insensitive portrayals of African-American vernacular, a nearly uniform depiction of black men as cruel or absent, and a failure to acknowledge the sexual harassment that many black women endured in their white employers' homes. Jones concluded by saying that "The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women's lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment."
Roxane Gay of literary web magazine The Rumpus argues the film might be offensive to African Americans, saying the film uses racial Hollywood tropes like the Magical Negro character. In 2014, the movie was one of several discussed by Keli Goff in The Daily Beast in an article concerning white savior narratives in film.
Viola Davis told Vanity Fair in 2018 she regretted being in the film. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny [played by Octavia Spencer, who won a best-supporting-actress Oscar]. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”
At the 84th Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. The film also received three other Academy Award nominations: Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actress for Viola Davis, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain.
|The Help: Music from the Motion Picture|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||July 26, 2011|
|Genre||Blues, soul, rhythm and blues, rock and roll|
|Singles from The Help|
|1.||"The Living Proof"||Mary J. Blige||5:57|
|2.||"Jackson"||Johnny Cash and June Carter||5:28|
|4.||"I Ain't Never"||Webb Pierce||1:56|
|5.||"Victory Is Mine"||Dorothy Norwood||3:47|
|6.||"Road Runner"||Bo Diddley||2:48|
|7.||"Hallelujah I Love Her So"||Ray Charles||2:35|
|8.||"The Wah-Watusi"||The Orlons||2:32|
|10.||"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"||Bob Dylan||3:38|
|11.||"Let's Twist Again"||Chubby Checker||2:19|
|12.||"Don't Knock"||Mavis Staples||2:30|
|The Help: Original Motion Picture Score|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||September 13, 2011|
|10.||"Write That Down"||1:38|
|11.||"Bottom Of The List"||3:23|
|13.||"First White Baby"||2:00|
|16.||"Not To Die"||1:28|
|18.||"Trash On The Road"||1:37|
|19.||"The Terrible Awful"||2:57|
|24.||"Mile High Meringue"||2:00|
|25.||"Ain't You Tired (End Title)"||6:29|
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