When I talked with Emma Stone in July 11, 2011, the issue of Vanity Fair with her on the cover had just hit newstands. It seemed wrong not to acknowledge this milestone in a career that is relatively new, but has already shown so much versatility. Bouyant but grounded, Stone spoke with engaging conviction about the racial discrimination depicted in her film, THE HELP, but also had a ready laugh when discussing the explosive hair her character wears.
THE HELP, based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, gently but firmly peels away they dry rot of racism that festered beneath the gracious, etiquette obsessed façade of southern gentility before the civil rights movement. What is remarkable, and a remarkably difficult line to walk, is that it does so while also showing the complexity of the one-to-one relationships formed between the African-American maids employed by middle- and upper-class white women during these times, and their families that employed them. The story is almost devoid of the men who were part of these womens lives. The story of the relationships between men of different races at that time is not the purview of the story, in fact, the lives of women and men were as segregated as those of the races in question.
For generations, black women came into the homes of white women, cleaned their houses, cooked their meals, and raised their children. It was, as beautifully depicted here, a deeply intimate relationship, but one with lines that were not crossed. So deeply ingrained were the customs and prejudices, that the idea of questioning them almost never came up. Almost. In the case of THE HELP, its Skeeter (Emma Stone), a woman with a tangle of emphatic red hair, and a burning desire for a writing career not the traditional home and family. Shes newly graduated from Ole Miss in 1963 and returning to the bosom of her family and her circle of friends, now all married with children and maids. Perhaps its the disappearance of her familys maid, Constantine (Cicely Tyson), whose abrupt departure, after decades of service, no one wants to discuss, perhaps its the new perspective of being the single woman in the group that lets her notice the way her friends treat their servants. As children, they adored the black women who were there to wipe their noses and listen to their daily adventures; as adults, they are dismissive, talking about them as if they werent there, and spouting racism of the most insidiously casual kind.
THE HELP has its own revolutionary atmosphere, refusing to divide the world into, pardon the expression, black and white. Without intricacies of the relationships, without the emotional stakes that those intricacies represent, the film would fail monumentally, becoming just another screed about the injustice of the times. Instead, it is a celebration of the heart with an indictment of racism, ageism, sexism, and all the others that is irrefutable. The film co-stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, and Cicely Tyson. Tate Taylor directed from his own script.