The Help (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tate Taylor|
|Written by||Tate Taylor|
|Based on||The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Hughes Winborne|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios
|Box office||$216.6 million|
The Help is a 2011 American period drama film directed and written by Tate Taylor, and adapted from Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel of the same name. The film stars Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. The film and novel recount the story of young white woman and aspiring journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. The story focuses on her relationship with two black maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, during the Civil Rights era in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. In an attempt to become a legitimate journalist and writer, Skeeter decides to write a book from the point of view of the maids—referred to as "the help"— exposing the racism they are faced with as they work for white families.
DreamWorks Pictures acquired the screen rights to Stockett's novel in March 2010, and quickly commissioned the film into production with Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Brunson Green as producers. The film's casting began later that month, with principal photography following four months after in Mississippi.
Touchstone Pictures released The Help worldwide, with a general theatrical release in North America on August 10, 2011. The film was a critical and commercial success; receiving positive reviews and grossing $216 million in worldwide box office. The Help received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Davis, and Best Supporting Actress for both Chastain and Spencer, with the latter winning the award. The film also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
In 1963 Jackson, Mississippi, Aibileen Clark is a black maid who raises the children of Elizabeth Leefolt, a white woman suffering from postpartum depression, who refuses to acknowledge her daughter Mae Mobley other than by disciplining her. Aibileen's best friend is Minny Jackson, an outspoken black maid who works for Hilly Holbrook's senile mother, Mrs. Walters. While Minny may have an outspoken attitude, she has won favor with her great cooking skills. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan is a young white woman returning home after graduating from the University of Mississippi to discover that her mother Charlotte has fired her childhood nanny and maid Constantine.
Much to her mother's chagrin, Skeeter aspires to have a successful writing career. After spending time with Aibileen, forward-thinking Skeeter becomes increasingly disgusted with the attitudes and poor treatment of her white socialite friends towards their "help" (they even begin campaigning to require the maids to only use the restroom in dingy, shabby, and non-air conditioned outhouses in the extreme heat and exposed to the elements, with Hilly saying that "[Black people] carry different diseases.") and decides to write about the experiences of their housekeepers. The maids are reluctant to comply, afraid of retribution from their employers and the Anti-Civil Rights movement, but Aibileen eventually agrees, becoming emotionally attached to the project as it allows her to find closure on the death of her son four years earlier. Minny also complies after Hilly fires her for using the guest-bathroom and refusing to go out in tornado weather to use the help's toilet, and later makes false claims that Minny had been fired for stealing, making it nearly impossible for her to get new employment.
Minny eventually finds work with working-class Celia Foote, who is married to wealthy socialite (and former beau of Hilly) Johnny Foote. Celia is starved for friendship due to Hilly's efforts to ensure she remains a social pariah. Celia informs Minny that she's pregnant and befriends her over cooking lessons, while hiding the fact that she has hired a maid from Johnny. The relationship between Celia and Minny deepens further after Celia miscarries.
Skeeter submits the draft book to Harper & Row. Her editor, Elaine Stein, advises her that more maids' stories need to be included. Following the brutal arrest of Yule May, Hilly's replacement maid, more maids decide to offer their insight to Skeeter.
Following the assassination of Medgar Evers, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny worry that some maids and families will be recognized in the book. Minny, as a form of insurance, reveals her "Terrible Awful" story. In a fit of pique over being fired and having her reputation damaged by Hilly's lies, Minny baked her own excrement into a chocolate pie for Hilly. Hilly ate two slices before Minny told her what was in it, as she prevented Mrs. Walters from having a slice. Minny predicts its inclusion will keep the other maids safe from retribution, as Hilly will wield her social influence to convince everyone that the story did not take place in Jackson to protect her own reputation.
With the book almost finished, Skeeter confronts her mother about the firing of Constantine. Charlotte reveals that during a lunch with the local chapter of the Daughters of America, Constantine's daughter Rachel arrived and embarrassed Charlotte by disobeying her order to enter through the kitchen. In order to save face, Charlotte fired Constantine and ordered her and Rachel to leave immediately. Afterward, Rachel took Constantine home with her to Chicago. Charlotte had every intention of bringing Constantine back, but by the time she sent her son to bring her back, Constantine had died.
The book, published anonymously, is a success. Minny confesses about the Terrible Awful to Celia and Hilly does everything in her power to protect her reputation when she notices the Terrible Awful in the book. She becomes unhinged when a contribution from Celia to one of Hilly's charitable works is made out to "Two Slice Hilly." She drives intoxicated to the Phelan plantation to confront Skeeter and inform Charlotte about her daughter's "hippie ways". Charlotte implies that she already knows that Hilly is the subject of the story and orders her off the property. Charlotte and Skeeter reconcile, and Charlotte offers to help Skeeter prepare to move to Manhattan where she has been offered a job with Harper & Row.
Johnny reveals that he knows that Minny has been helping Celia and that Celia had informed him of the babies she miscarried. Johnny and Celia inform Minny she has a job with them for as long as she wants. This kindness gives Minny the courage to leave her abusive husband and take her children to live with the Footes.
Hilly returns to her old ways. Since she cannot expose herself as the subject in the book, Hilly attempts to frame Aibileen for theft and, after pressuring weak-willed Elizabeth into silence, tells Aibileen that she is fired. Aibileen condemns Hilly as a godless, vindictive woman. Defeated and humiliated, Hilly breaks down in tears and leaves. After saying farewell to Mae Mobley, Aibileen leaves for a new life, reflecting on her desire to become a writer.
- Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark
- Emma Stone as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan
- Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson
- Jessica Chastain as Celia Rae Foote
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Walters Holbrook
- Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan
- Ahna O'Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt
- Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth
- Cicely Tyson as Constantine Bates
- Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote
- Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters
- Anna Camp as Jolene French
- Brian Kerwin as Robert Phelan
- Aunjanue Ellis as Yule May Davis
- Ted Welch as William Holbrook
- LaChanze as Rachel Bates
- Mary Steenburgen as Elaine Stein
- Leslie Jordan as Mr. Blackly
- Wes Chatham as Carlton Phelan, Skeeter's brother.
- David Oyelowo as Preacher Green
- Dana Ivey as Grace Higginbotham
- Ashley Johnson as Mary Beth Caldwell
In December 2009, Variety reported that Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe would produce a film adaptation of The Help, under their production company 1492 Pictures. Brunson Green of Harbinger Productions also co-produced. The film was written and directed by Stockett's childhood friend, Tate Taylor, who optioned film rights to the book before its publication. DreamWorks acquired the film rights to the novel in March 2010. Reliance Entertainment and Participant Media co-produced the film.
The first casting news for the production came in March 2010, was reported that Stone was attached to play the role of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. Other actors were since cast, including Davis as Aibileen; Howard as Hilly Holbrook, Jackson's snooty town ringleader; Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Skeeter's mother; and Lowell as Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter's boyfriend and a senator's son. Leslie Jordan appears as the editor of the fictional local newspaper, The Jackson Journal. Mike Vogel plays the character Johnny Foote. Octavia Spencer portrays Minny. A longtime friend of Stockett and Taylor, Spencer inspired the character of Minny in Stockett's novel and voiced her in the audiobook version.
Filming began in July 2010 and extended through October. The town of Greenwood, Mississippi, was chosen to portray 1960s-era Jackson, and producer Green said he had expected to shoot "95 percent" of the film there. Parts of the film were also shot in the real-life Jackson, as well as in nearby Clarksdale and Greenville. One of the few locations that existed in 1963 Jackson, the book and the film is Jackson landmark Brent's Drugs, which dates to 1946. Other locations that can still be found in Jackson include the New Capitol Building and the Mayflower Cafe downtown. Scenes set at the Jackson Journal office were shot in Clarksdale at the building which formerly housed the Clarksdale Press Register for 40 years until April 2010.
The Help was the most significant film production in Mississippi since O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) "Honestly, my heart would be broken if it were set anywhere but Mississippi", Stockett wrote in an e-mail to reporters. In order to convince producers to shoot in Greenwood, Tate Taylor and others had previously come to the town and scouted out locations; at his first meeting with DreamWorks executives, he presented them with a photo album of potential filming spots in the area. The state's tax incentive program for filmmakers was also a key enticement in the decision.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distributed The Help worldwide through the studio's Touchstone Pictures banner. On October 13, 2010, Disney gave the film a release date of August 12, 2011. On June 30, 2011, the film's release date was rescheduled two days earlier to August 10, 2011.
The film was released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital download on December 6, 2011. The release was produced in three different physical packages: a three-disc combo pack (Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy); a two-disc combo pack (Blu-ray and DVD); and a single-disc DVD. It was also released as a digital download option in both standard and high definition. The DVD version includes two deleted scenes and The Living Proof music video by Mary J. Blige. The digital download version includes the same features as the DVD version, plus one additional deleted scene. Both the two-disc and three-disc combo packs include the same features as the DVD version, as well as "The Making of 'The Help': From Friendship to Film", "In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi", and three deleted scenes with introductions by director Taylor.
The Help received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 75% of 203 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7 out of 10. The site's consensus states, "Though arguably guilty of glossing over its racial themes, The Help rises on the strength of its cast—particularly Viola Davis, whose performance is powerful enough to carry the film on its own." Metacritic, a review aggregator which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 62 based on 41 reviews. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was an "A+" on an A+ to F scale.
Tom Long from The Detroit News remarked about the film: "Appealling, entertaining, touching and perhaps even a bit healing, The Help is an old-fashioned grand yarn of a film, the sort we rarely get these days." Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald gave the film three out of four stars and said it "will make you laugh, yes, but it can also break your heart. In the dog days of August moviegoing, that's a powerful recommendation."
A more mixed review from Karina Longworth of The Village Voice said: "We get a fairly typical Hollywood flattening of history, with powerful villains and disenfranchised heroes." Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail, giving the film two out of four stars, said: "Typically, this sort of film is an earnest tear-jerker with moments of levity. Instead, what we have here is a raucous rib-tickler with occasional pauses for a little dramatic relief." Referring to the film as a "big, ole slab of honey-glazed hokum", The New York Times noted that "save for Ms. Davis's, however, the performances are almost all overly broad, sometimes excruciatingly so, characterized by loud laughs, bugging eyes and pumping limbs."
Some of the negative reviews criticized the film for its inability to match the quality of the book. Chris Hewitt of the St. Paul Pioneer Press said about the film: "Some adaptations find a fresh, cinematic way to convey a book's spirit but The Help doesn't."
Many critics praised the performances of Davis and Spencer. Wilson Morales of Blackfilm.com gave the movie three out of four stars and commented, "With powerful performances given by Viola Davis and scene stealer Octavia Spencer, the film is an emotionally moving drama that remains highly entertaining." David Edelstein from New York magazine commented that, "The Help belongs to Viola Davis."
Ida E. Jones, the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, released an open statement criticizing the film, stating "[d]espite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers." The ABWH accused both the book and the film of insensitive portrayals of African-American vernacular, a nearly uniform depiction of black men as cruel or absent, and a failure to acknowledge the sexual harassment that many black women endured in their white employers' homes. Jones concluded by saying that "The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women's lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment."
Roxane Gay of literary web magazine The Rumpus argues the film might be offensive to African Americans, saying the film uses racial Hollywood stereotypes like the Magical Negro and Gone with the Wind.
The Help earned $169,708,112 in North America and $46,931,000 in other territories for a worldwide total of $216,639,112.
In North America, on its opening day (Wednesday, August 10, 2011), it topped the box office with $5.54 million. It then added $4.33 million on Thursday, declining only 21 percent, a two-day total to $9.87 million. On its first weekend, the film grossed $26.0 million, coming in second place behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes. However, during its second weekend, the film jumped to first place with $20.0 million, declining only 23 percent, the smallest drop among films playing nationwide. The film crossed the $100 million mark on its 21st day of release, becoming one of only two titles in August 2011 that achieved this. On its fourth weekend (Labor Day three-day weekend), it became the first film since Inception (2010), to top the box-office charts for three consecutive weekends. Its four-day weekend haul of $19.9 million was the fourth largest for a Labor-day weekend. Notably, The Help topped the box office for 25 days in a row. This was the longest uninterrupted streak since The Sixth Sense (35 days), which was also a late summer release, in 1999.
To promote the film, TakePart.com hosted a series of three writing contests. Rebecca Lubin, of Mill Valley, California, who has been a nanny for nearly two decades won the recipe contest. Darcy Pattison's "11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph" won "The Help" Children's Story Contest with her story about a tenacious young girl who refuses to take a good photograph while her father is away "soldiering". After being chosen by guest judge and children's-book author Lou Berger, the story was professionally illustrated. The final contest was about "someone who inspired you". Genoveva Islas-Hooker charmed guest judge Doc Hendley (founder of Wine to Water) with her story, A Heroine Named Confidential. A case manager for patients with HIV, Islas-Hooker was consistently inspired by one special individual who never gave up the fight to live.
|The Help: Music from the Motion Picture|
|Soundtrack album by Various artists|
|Released||July 26, 2011|
|Genre||Blues, soul, rhythm and blues, rock and roll|
|Singles from The Help|
|1.||"The Living Proof"||Mary J. Blige||5:57|
|2.||"Jackson"||Johnny Cash and June Carter||5:28|
|4.||"I Ain't Never"||Webb Pierce||1:56|
|5.||"Victory Is Mine"||Dorothy Norwood||3:47|
|6.||"Road Runner"||Bo Diddley||2:48|
|7.||"Hallelujah I Love Her So"||Ray Charles||2:35|
|8.||"The Wah-Watusi"||The Orlons||2:32|
|10.||"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"||Bob Dylan||3:38|
|11.||"Let's Twist Again"||Chubby Checker||2:19|
|12.||"Don't Knock"||Mavis Staples||2:30|
|The Help: Original Motion Picture Score|
|Soundtrack album by Thomas Newman|
|Released||September 13, 2011|
|10.||"Write That Down"||1:38|
|11.||"Bottom Of The List"||3:23|
|13.||"First White Baby"||2:00|
|16.||"Not To Die"||1:28|
|18.||"Trash On The Road"||1:37|
|19.||"The Terrible Awful"||2:57|
|24.||"Mile High Meringue"||2:00|
|25.||"Ain't You Tired (End Title)"||6:29|
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