|I'll be walking along in NYC and this |
cuts through the concrete like sunlight
through the clouds. I love it.
What I will say after revisiting both the book and the film is that they are both works of fiction and should be taken as such. When you start demanding that authors and filmmakers bend their stories so that they are completely historically accurate, you will have a twisted knot of soulless historical fiction tied by committee. And no one wants to read that. Art is born of the artist's imagination. It is sometimes influenced by history in order to confront and explore the past, not so that it can revise the past. That kind of revision was never anybody's intention.
I have to equate the knee-jerk reaction to my own experience with Brokeback Mountain. As a gay man, I had a choice. I could cock my eyebrow at people's intentions, wag my finger about how the last thing we need are more tragic gay characters, even if they are brilliantly portrayed and question how accurate it is to the story of real gay men in that time and place, whose stories have been mostly unexplored, never recorded and/or lost. Or I could choose to appreciate the fact that a stellar team of artists, all of whom, from actors to director to screenwriters and author, were (as far as I know) straight, had come together to passionately tell a story that they felt was important about human experience that both transcended and honored what makes us different.
I can nitpick about the movie, but by and large I thought it was wonderful and I'm grateful that it got people talking and maybe looking at their own lives and the lives of others in a different light. I know what it's like to be starved for representation in the media. It's so important to see a face like yours on TV, in movies, music or literature. You are overcome with joy when they get it right and devastated when they get it wrong because heaven only knows when the next opportunity will come along.
|The British book cover. More|
evocative than three birds, huh?
A lot of the things that I feel about the controversy are very succinctly stated in an article by Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly. It gives counterpoint to a lot of the issues that have been brought up regarding the movie and book. Take a moment to read it for a very well thought out and level-headed piece that is far less mired down in the reactionary emotions than the monologue that I would have unleashed upon your poor ears. I'm grateful to him for articulating a lot of what I feel so articulately. Kudos, Owen.
So, after my my first experience with The Help, I was underwhelmed. Immediately after, Tom and I talked at length about its imperfections and how it could have been improved. I now know that this was brought on by a combination of months and months of anticipation, high expectations for an adaptation of one of my favorite books, the fact that I was watching a two-and-a-half hour long movie at midnight after a long day, and a bad experience in a theater where someone was snoring as loud as humanly possible through the majority of the film.
|They got the poster right this time!|
When it comes right down to it, what matters is that the movie is emotional, probing, uplifting, funny, and beautifully crafted. Ultimately, it does justice to the book it's based on and the lives that inspired it. I was not a huge fan of director/screenwriter Tate Taylor's first movie, Pretty Ugly People, but had faith that he was at the helm for a reason. He grew up best friends with the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, in Jackson, Mississippi, which gave him a solid understanding both of her storytelling voice and the time and place.
Taylor made the film look and feel authentically Southern, managed to admirably adapt the book to the screen without destroying it, and actually added things (powerful scenes between Skeeter and her mother, a strong final moment for Hilly and Aibileen) that strengthened it as a film. He was able to successfully guide us through a powerful emotional experience. It's nothing less than a miracle that he made it all work. Both times I saw the movie, during the final shot, which is purely brilliant, and Mary J. Blige's fantastic song "The Living Proof," I was crying so hard that I couldn't catch my breath. That's effective filmmaking.
Above everything else, he cast the hell out of this movie. There is not a weak link in the performances. Viola Davis had better have an Oscar on her mantle this year for her damn near perfect acting as Aibileen. Octavia Spencer, whose personality actually inspired the character of Minnie in the book, breaks out in a big way. Emma Stone, who strangely enough has still not responded to my marriage proposal, gives an unexpected performance as Skeeter that anchors the film deeply and is wonderfully different from any of her other work. Jessica Chastain, playing Celia, was luminescent and was the real discovery for me since I had never seen her in anything before. Work by Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cicely Tyson and Sissy Spacek and the rest of the mostly female ensemble is also fantastic.
|I get misty just thinking about this scene.|
I think the biggest testament to the power of the film is that I immediately wanted to talk to Mama about it. She was a child living in Tallahassee, Florida in 1963 when the movie is set. (Yes, kids. North Florida is the South.) The night that she saw it, Tom and I got home and immediately facetimed her. We talked for an hour about how the movie reflected her experiences growing up. I learned so much that I had never thought to ask about her past and what it was like to live in the South during the sixties. I realized that the movie had already done something important by encouraging me to explore the stories of those that are close to me and how they have shaped my values. It got me to confront what was ugly and learn from it. It got me to look at what wasn't ugly and celebrate it. My hope is that's what is happening to everyone who sees it.
|We would have the cutest babies, right? I said, right?!?|
Icee May was an older black woman who lived across the tracks from where Grandma Muffin lived. In many Southern towns, though they are desegregated, races are often still somewhat separated. Mama told me that the first time Dad took her home to meet the family, they drove out to Icee May's. Dad introduced Mama, saying "Icee May, this is the girl I'm gonna marry." Icee May took a brief look at her, threw her arms wide and wrapped Mama in a tight hug, laughing and lovingly saying "Look at you! You're so fat!" Mama said that's the moment she knew she loved Icee May.
|Her eyes alone should get an Academy Award for acting.|
Mama told me that Icee May's experience was different because she had owned a store. My mind exploded. I wanted to know her story. There was so much that I didn't know. As a child, you don't think to ask about these stories. You just live in the moment of being in someone's presence. When you grow up, things like questioning your past often become buried under other priorities. That is what moved Kathryn Stockett to write The Help in the first place. A desire for understanding and connection. I hope that these feelings that the book and movie have stirred in me keep making themselves known, pushing me on to work towards the same.
|Remember the moment when they first walk into the church? |
So good! This all makes me wanna go see it a third time!
|Officially one of my top 5 books ever.|
Here I was, years after she made them, rediscovering these quilt tops because of a movie. I cannot wait to have them in my hands. Each one of those patches will come with an unknown history all their own. I will never have the opportunity to ask Icee May what their stories are, but I can do right by her and have them put together, as they were intended to be, to create a whole. And when I run my fingers over those soft patches, I know that my mind will drift to her, glad that she left them to me, to complete on my own, to remember her by, imagining what each one would say if it could talk to me. What stories would it share? And I am thankful to The Help for reminding me to look into my own life, gather up the patches of my history and get them sewn together.