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The Help' proves to be a must see for Black History Month

Imagine life as an African American maid in Jackson, Mississippi in the year 1962. Jim Crow laws are still in effect. The pay isn’t even minimum wage, yet your job requires you to leave your own family in the care of someone else while you attend to a white family. And if you witness something private, you don’t tell a soul.

This is the setting of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel “The Help.” Last August, a movie version of the novel was released in theaters. Since their respective releases, both the book and the movie have received a great deal of attention due to the story line. Some audiences have disdainfully commented that “The Help” is just another occasion for a white person to come to the rescue of the black community.

Others have raved about the accuracy of the plot. In fact, NPR.org calls "The Help" “one of the most important pieces of fiction since 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'" I put myself in the same camp as NPR; since seeing the movie and reading the novel, I’ve encour­aged practically everyone I know to pick up either form of media and watch the story unfold. If you disagree, all the more power to you, just give me a moment to explain my reasoning.

As I said before, the story is about the black maids in Jackson in the early 60s. These maids were referred to as “the help” by those who hired them – hence the title. The story is brought to life by several color­ful characters, including two maids called Aibileen and Minny, the families they work for, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.

Aibileen has recently begun to feel bitter­ness towards the white people of Jackson bubbling up inside her, though she never shows it. Minny often has trouble with talking back and finds herself searching for a new job because of it. Skeeter is a young white woman with aspirations of being a writer, but has no subject she’s passionate enough about to write a novel on.

But, after the maid that raised Skeeter disappears, the three women are drawn together when Skeeter decides on a topic. Without the maid that raised her, Skeeter looks to Aibileen for assistance with the novel. Events in the town lead Aibileen to agree and to ask Minny to help as well.

Soon, the characters have embarked on a dangerous task: writing a nonfiction novel about working for white families in Jackson. With laughter and tears, the three women carefully cross not only racial boundaries, but those held for women of the time.

One of the elements that really made the novel enjoyable was that it switched between four points of view. Some parts of the book were told in Aibeleen’s voice, some in Minny’s, some in Skeeter’s, and a few were told from an omniscient point of view. I was happy to see that this held up in the movie.

Of course, like any book-to-film adapta­tion, there were changes. Some details were left out, but I felt that they were made up by fantastic performances by the cast. Viola Davis is a nominee for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, and she deserves it. Seeing her on the screen was like watching Aibileen walk right out of the book.

Octavia Spencer is up for Best Supporting Actress for the character of Minny, and Jes­sica Chastain is nominated for her portrayal of Celia Foote, the white woman Minny ends up working for.

Of course, they both can’t win, but I don’t think either actress could have succeeded without the other. In fact, the entire cast of "The Help" seems to function that way. That’s what made the movie so wonderful in my mind. You see, the casts of characters in the novel operate the same way.

Here comes the part where I explain why I think "The Help" is so important: It really shows the power of unity. That’s why I’m so adamantly against those that say Skee­ter barged in to help with the Civil Rights movement; that’s not how it happened! Sure, Skeeter came up with the idea of the book, but she never could have written it if Aibileen and Minny had not agreed.

The danger for all three women in the story is incredibly high, but while Skeeter would have been frowned upon, Aibileen and Minny could have been lynched for their involvement. "The Help" is important because it shows a type of courage we don’t generally get to see.

It’s the kind of bravery that transcends all obstacles, the kind that we should all strive to have.

February is Black History Month. You may choose to ignore it, but after expe­riencing the poignancy of “The Help,” I don’t think I can. Read it. Watch it. Learn something about America’s history that you probably won’t otherwise get access to. As for me, I have no other way to wrap up than with my favorite line from the story. After all, it’s the theme that carries through "The Help" and one that we should all have within ourselves.

“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

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