News / Arts & Entertainment

Anonymous Book Dishes on Life as a Black Maid in 'The Help'

Multimedia

Audio
Alan Silverman

A hit novel about black and white women in the American south 50 years ago has been made into a film that is winning widespread critical acclaim. Alan Silverman has this look at The Help.



"I was raised by a colored woman. We love them and they love us, but they can't even use the toilets in our houses."


It's 1962, and university graduate Skeeter Phelan has come home to Jackson, Mississippi, a corner of the south that the civil rights movement has yet to reach. African-American women like Aibileen Clark work in the homes of white families as maids, cooks and nannies.  Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, asks Aibileen to describe what life is like for these black women.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in "The Help" Photo: Dale Robinette – © DreamWorks II

SKEETER: "I want to interview you about what it's like to work as a maid. I'd like to do a book of interviews about working for white families.

AIBILEEN: "Do you know what Miss Leefolt would do to me if she know that I was telling stories about her?"

SKEETER: "Well, I was thinking that we wouldn't have to tell her."

Emma Stone in 'The Help'
Emma Stone in 'The Help' Photo: Dale Robinette – © DreamWorks II

Emma Stone says Skeeter didn't imagine that the invitation would be problematical.

"Skeeter is very idealistic and is crazy to think that this would be exciting for Aibileen to be a part of," Stone says.

But Skeeter eventually wins the trust of Aibileen and her co-workers. Their book, published anonymously as The Help, creates a sensation. Viola Davis co-stars as Aibileen and admits to having thought twice about playing the servant.

"It's very difficult because I thought, do I want to play a character that could be viewed as so subservient? But I see her as much more than that. This is all we were back then," notes Davis. "Every once in a while you had someone who broke the norm, but you were maids. You  were in subservient roles. And yet she was able to break out of all of that to pursue a goal and a dream and to speak out."

HILLY: "I have drafted the home health sanitation initiative."

SKEETER: "The what?"

HILLY: "A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the help."


 Bryce Dallas Howard, left, and Emma Stone in 'The Help'
Bryce Dallas Howard, left, and Emma Stone in "The Help" Photo: Dale Robinette – © DreamWorks II

Hilly, a socialite, sees herself not as a racist, but as an upstanding citizen in a place and time when speaking out against discrimination is a crime.  She's played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

"I had to believe in the things that I was saying and believe that what I was doing was right, which is what the circumstances were back then with these kinds of women and individuals. They actually thought that they were doing good, which is so scary," she says.

The Help is adapted from the best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. She based the book on her own experience growing up in Jackson.

"Look, I'm the first one to say I’m a white woman. I know that I'll never truly understand what it must have felt like to be a black woman working in the south," Stockett admits. "But it seems like no one had even tried to show that perspective."

MINNY: "All right, I'm going to do it. But I need to make sure she understands this ain't no game we're playing here. Do I have to come up with the questions too?"

SKEETER: "Uh, let's begin with, uh, where you were born."

MINNY: "Belzoni, Mississippi, on my great-auntie's sofa."


The civil rights movement is the backdrop for the story, but Octavia Spencer, who plays the outspoken maid Minny, says it is really about relationships and empowerment.

"It's not about race. It's about doing what's right and finding your voice," Spencer says.

The Help
was directed by Tate Taylor, author Kathryn Stockett's childhood friend. It was filmed near where they grew up in Mississippi.

You May Like

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent — Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures