They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. – Skeeter Phelan, The Help (the novel)
I read The Help about a year ago. I loved it. It’s one of those books that makes you laugh out loud and then turn the page and cry. It’s an incredible story. The movie had received varying reviews. In terms of entertainment it rates highly. In terms of historical accuracy, there is certainly something to be desired. However, I’ve been struggling through all the reviews about how it leaves out much of the civil rights movement, much of what was happening in Mississippi.
I’ve studied the civil rights in great detail, and I know much was left out. The quote above from the book even got it wrong. Medgar Evers wasn’t bludgeoned. He was shot in front of his house. The book looks more at what else is happening in Mississippi at the time, and throughout the South. The thing is – and this was shown well in a brief scene in the movie – it’s being told from the perspective of a white girl on a plantation, there are certain things her family is going to ignore. While she spends time away from home learning about what is happening around the state and country in terms of civil rights, and interviewing maids to learn their plight, her family is insistent on ignoring that anything is happening, that their world is about to change dramatically. It is part of what sets Skeeter apart from her family and friends. She actually sees something wrong and wants to bring attention to it, see it change.
I don’t believe the movie showed how truly frightening it was for all those women to speak up and tell their stories. For Skeeter to be in Aibileen’s house, and what could have happened had any of them been caught in the process, had any of the written stories been found before being published. Every single woman involved in telling the story of the help was putting her life in danger.
Much of this story is really more a coming of age story of Skeeter Phelan. Her education after leaving college, and realizing going home is not necessarily where she belongs, no matter how much it is expected, is a central piece of the story. You can’t tell a story in Mississippi in the 1960s without mentioning racism and civil rights. This wholly unique view, while it may not be 100% accurate got a lot of people thinking. The reaction of the people around me in the theater was mostly shock at Hilly Holbrook, and gasps when true racism was shown from any of the characters. It made me think there are people that are not aware of how pervasive it once was and still can be.
No movie is going to be able to encapsulate everything from the book it’s based on, or actual events that happened at the time. The Help is an interesting look at a group of women in the South who are often overlooked in the history books. I recommend the movie, but if you haven’t read the book yet, please do!
Originally appeared on Fem2.0