Racism in ‘The Help’ movie
‘The Help’ tells the story of three women who work together to challenge the racial status quo of their day. In Jackson Mississippi in the 1960s, aspiring writer Skeeter Phelan gets an idea to write a book about what it’s really like to be a black maid working for a white family. Blacks in this film are represented as common house maids, or even domestic slaves. Racism manifests in the lives of the black maids in a number of ways such as being denied the opportunity for educational or professional advancement, performing every kind of work for white families, curtail their speech to prevent violence, and they must use separate facilities. And on top of that, black people are constantly exposed to social messages telling them that they are dirty, lazy, and in all respects less than white people. ‘Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.’ (Martin Luther King Jr.).
The movie starts with some very powerful questions to a black maid Aibileen; ‘Do you ever dream of being someone else?’ or “What does it feel like to raise a white child when your own child’s at home being looked after by somebody else?’, where follows a complete silence and an immense sadness and pain in the maid’s eyes. These questions leave us to think how hard and painful their life was. Having to finish all the house work and take care for the white people’s children only for 95 cents per hour or 182 dollars per month and being humiliated and called ‘the nigra’ all the time.
Another very important thing that the nigras had to face with every day was the toilet segregation. They mustn’t use the same baths as the white people because they were considered as dirty people who carry several diseases and for that matter, they had different toilets only for the colored help. This is represented in the film when Elizabeth Leefolt and Hilly Holbrook, white employers, work to pass the ‘Home Health Sanitation Initiative’, a bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help.
Despite the toilet segregation, there is also a declaration which says: ‘Any person printing, publishing or circulating written matter urging for public acceptance or social equality between whites and Negroes is subject to imprisonment!’ And even the books shall not be interchangeable between white and colored schools.
After Aibileen and the other black maids got tired of humiliation and suffering, found the courage to step up and spill out everything on how it feels to be a colored person working for a white person. Aibileen says ‘A bitter seed was planted inside me. And I just didn’t feel so accepting anymore’ (The Help, page 183). Without thinking what would happen to them if they were to get caught, they started retelling their life stories with hidden identity to the author that was writing a book so that everybody could read what’s really happening and make a step against racism or put an end to this owning a black maid and taking control over their lives.
This step is very important and significant in the maid’s lives because the book that was being published benefited everyone in the long run. After the success of the novel, Skeeter, the author, moves to New York to work in publishing; Aibileen, despite being fired from her job and separated from her toddler Mae Mobley, proud of herself embarks on a writing career of her own, and Minny, the other black maid, leaves her abusive husband.
Racism is an issue that still happens to this very day and is something most people all have witnessed. Like the Film ‘The Help’ racism has a big influence on people in our society we live in today. Tate Taylor uses it effectively to help communicate the struggles of Aibileen as an individual but with support and faith she overcomes the obstacles that society throws at her.