A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Help is an emotionally intense adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling civil rights-era novel. It isn't likely to appeal to young kids, but it's a historically relevant drama that mature tweens and teens can see with their parents. The film not only teaches about segregation and the importance of racial equality, but it also shows how oppressed people have important stories to tell. The language is tame for a PG-13 movie except for the word "s--t," which is used several times, and one casual use of the "N" word by a bus driver. African Americans are referred to as "negro," and a grown-up restaurant worker is called "boy" by white patrons. There's no graphic violence, but a character is obviously physically abused by her husband, and a woman has a miscarriage, leaving her in a pool of her blood. Reflecting the '60s setting, almost everyone (even a pregnant woman) smokes cigarettes and drinks.
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What's the story?
Skeeter (Emma Stone) is one of the few young women in her upper-crust circle to actually graduate from college. She returns home to Jackson, Miss., where all of her friends are married young mothers who let their African-American maids do the heavy lifting while they gather for bridge games, gossip, and charity-ball planning. Unfulfilled with her job as a household-tips columnist, Skeeter pitches a book idea to a New York city editor (Mary Steenburgen): She'll write a collection of stories about THE HELP, from their point of view. But first Skeeter must convince her friends' housekeepers -- starting with Aibileen (Viola Davis) -- to be interviewed for the project. Hesitant at first, Aibileen eventually relents and nudges her best friend, the recently fired Minny (Octavia Spencer), to tell the truth about raising and loving white children who grow up to be just as racist as their parents.
Is it any good?
All of the performances are remarkable in this drama. On the surface, The Help looks like yet another civil rights story told from the perspective of an open-minded white character who acts as the catalyst for change. But director Tate Taylor is careful not to put an overwhelming spotlight on Skeeter at the expense of Aibileen (who narrates the drama) or Minny. Stone continues to solidify her stellar reputation with her understated performance as the ambitious but slightly misfit young writer. But the real revelations are Davis, who's such a nuanced actress that she can elicit a storm of emotions with her soul-piercing stare, and relative newcomer Spencer, who's not only playing the opinionated Minny but is her inspiration (she's a close friend of both the author and director). Both actresses are deserving of an Academy Award nominations.
There's not a flat note in the production, although special mention must be made of scene-stealers Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain. Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, one of the meanest, most heartless villains this side of Cruella DeVil. She's the Junior League set's queen bee and is so racist that she wants a bill passed forcing white homes to have a separate bathroom for their black servants. Chastain, who wowed critics in The Tree of Life, lets loose as Minny's kind and charismatic employer, who's desperate for a friend. The Help is one of those perfect movies for parents and mature tweens/teens to see together. It sparks discussion, teaches a history lesson, and makes everyone think about how we treat others. And yes, don't forget the tissues. There will be weeping.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Help depicts African Americans' struggle for racial equality. How accurate do you think it is? How could you find out more about this part of history?
Are the characters realistic? Do you consider any of them to be stereotypes? If so, why?
Some have criticized Stockett's story for making a white character central to the civil rights movement. How is the movie sensitive to this issue? What did you learn about the South under Jim Crow laws?
For those who've read the book, how faithful is the movie adaptation? What changes did you like? What do you wish the director had included?
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