Screening The Help
This week I took my 13-year-old daughter (aka Mini Maven) to see the film adaptation of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Like many readers and viewers, I have mixed feelings about both the book and the movie; others have written eloquently about Stockett's debatable view of mid-century race relations in Mississippi. However, I was impressed by how faithfully director Tate Taylor has translated Stockett's immensely popular novel into film.
One thing you can't deny about film in general is its visual impact; some of the story's details hit me differently as I watched them than they had when I read them. I was particularly struck by the scenes about President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The photograph of the president that Aibileen hangs on her wall, next to Jesus Christ's and her late son's, is an added, though relevant, detail. The visual punch of film helped me to notice those small moments.
Those small scenes added up to a big teaching moment for me as a parent. As we exited the theater, Mini Maven asked, "Why was everyone so upset about President Kennedy's funeral, Mom?" I realized that her education thus far had not included Kennedy's role in fostering hope among Americans of many different races and creeds, and so we spent a while talking about that, and about why Skeeter would have been happy to let her family's African-American servants watch the televised state funeral in the living room (although her mother shoos them away). I encouraged my daughter to ask her favorite librarian for some reading suggestions about the Civil Rights era (in which, of course, President Lyndon Johnson wound up playing a far more significant role than did President Kennedy).
This all served to remind me that no one can predict what someone else will take away from a story. Regardless of how you feel about The Help--the book, the movie or both--as you talk about it, keep that in mind. One woman's inspiration is another's revisionist history, yes--but one woman's faithful adaptation might also be one girl's surprising lesson. --Bethanne Patrick