African-American Representation in Hollywood
As the 1960s rolled around the United States became highly unstable in terms of social justice. Forms of racism and discrimination skyrocketed, while social class placement became the new hot topic for gossip. This all took place during the time known as the civil rights era. The beginning of this eventful decade with the presidential election of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy provided the United States with a heart of hope until he was assassinated. This tragic moment in history soon sparked into rage and brutality from the citizens of the nation. Citizens began to push even harder to end the mistreatment of African Americans and equality for all women. Following Kennedy’s death, Martin Luther King Junior was shot for using the power he gained to nonviolently end segregation. He meant harm to no individual, but yet King was put to his death for standing up for what he believed was right. From sitting in on many history class lectures concerning the early 1960s and Mississippi as well as watching this film, I have learned that still to this day Jackson, Mississippi is known as one of the most segregated towns in all of the United States. Thanks to Kathryn Stockett, we are now able to get a better perspective of Jackson in the early sixties.
Bringing together all of these major points in history, The Help showcases the lives of both African Americans as well as whites in this time period. This novel/film takes place in Jackson, Mississippi. The setting of this storyline plays an important role because of past racial and social problems in this particular area during the 1960s. The three narrators, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, Abilene Clark, and Minny Jackson all live in the same town but under different circumstances. Aibileen and Minny are both black maids who faced numbers struggles with their wealthy white employers. Skeeter, the daughter of a wealthy white woman named Charlotte, is an inspiring young writer who wishes to tell the stories of the black maids in Jackson.
She comes to realize that those that she is taught to feel superior to are those who helped raise her generation of wealthy southerners. After talking to the maid named Aibileen, Skeeter brings forward the idea of a novel. The novel was a chance for the blacks, who were always discriminated against, to gain a voice loud enough for the town and possibly the nation to hear. The maids were reluctant at first because of the consequences that could arise from this unfiltered novel. Skeeter eventually receives a letter from a publisher in New York who wants to get involved in the idea of bringing forward the true stories of domestic servants. Aibileen and Minny convinced the other Maids to tell their story to Skeeter. When the novel was put on the shelves of many stores, an uproar came from the rich white folks. The individuals who were previously holding the higher power became silences and learned to maintain a greater respect. The book that Skeeter produced became a powerful force in helping the black maids of Jackson a voice. This was all in hopes of the community to reconsider the lines previously drawn between blacks and whites. Within the novel there are outbreaks of racism, classism, sexism, and discrimination.
Categorizing individuals based on their socioeconomic status, social structure, family members, or even degree of education is defined as classism. This concept is shown from the very beginning of the movie all the way until the mid-end. The film opens with Skeeter asking Aibileen, “Did you know as a girl growing up that one day you would be a maid? Aibileen answered, “Yes I did.” This is a straight forward example of classism because it shows how most people who weren’t born into a wealthy family already knew the type of labor they would be assigned too. Most, if not all, of the time it would be a low paying, high demanding job. The rich white woman in the film were either born or married into the middle and upper classes of life. Meanwhile, the blacks were put into the working class. These low paying jobs were not enough to make a living alone, that is why Minny’s daughter had to drop out of school to work after Hilly fired Minny. Being that college was expensive Yul’mae and her husband wanted to find ways to send both of her son’s to get a higher education. She found an old ring at Hilly’s house as she was working, and pawned it off to make a little cash. Although no one missed the ring, Hilly got Yul’mae arrested in front of all of the other maids and some white children. Just from these few scenes, it is clear to see that middle and upper class had benefits whereas the working class had none.
Within a handful of scenes there is an appearance of sexism; one sex being superior to the other. Skeeter aspires to be a writer where she plans to successful. She is willing to do whatever it takes for her to establish herself in an actual career rather than living by the rules of society. At this time all white women are expected to get married to a man and then have children of her own. Being that Skeeter didn’t want to go by the rules of society her mother, Charolette, questioned her sexuality since Skeeters mind wasn’t set on finding a wealthy husband. During this time in life, women weren’t seen as a capable of being involved in social justice, which is what Skeeter got involved in with her book. Another instance of sexism is when Minny loses her job because Mrs. Hilly and the state’s judgement of improper bathroom use. Minny was fearing the moment that her husband found out about her unemployment. Leroy, Minny’s husband, beats her as if he is the head of the household. Which in this time period that how people’s mindset was; men are the superior sex. Leroy forced one of his oldest daughter to discontinue her schooling and work as a maid to help pay bills while Minny was in the search for another job.
The topic of racism is a major point to be addressed in The Help, as it is the feeling that one race is more superior to another. Throughout the entire film it is easy to point out the advantages that the whites have because the blacks had nothing but a list of disadvantages. One disadvantage that stands out to me the most is the communication between non-whites and whites. The non-whites are addressing the white by ma’am and sir, while the white are talking to the non-whites in a rude manner by their first name. Hilly is the character who displays the strongest racist personality. She claims that the colored carry different diseases than other people, which is an assumption that she is making towards another race. Due to this mindset of her’s she went through the trouble of creating a disease preventative bill called the “Home Health Sanitation Initiative.” After the bill was passed by the governor, every white home was required to have a bathroom designated for the colored help. Overall, I noticed that the colored were always alert and afraid that one wrong move could possibly end their life. Meanwhile, the whites don’t have any worries because they are aware of their security in life.
Aside from racism, discrimination of African American’s has to be the biggest social inequality throughout the entire movie. According to our text, discrimination is defined as, “the denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals and groups because of prejudice or for other arbitrary reasons” (Schaefer, pp.34). The events of discrimination shown throughout the film seems rather unreasonable in my opinion. As mentioned above, the maids have to use a separate bathroom from the whites because they believe that it is more sanitary. As for schools and churches the buildings were designated for one color and not the other. If both whites and blacks are allowed to be in the same building, there are separate entrances for each. Being that whites seemed to be more superior at the time, the blacks had to enter through the side or back. In the movie, there is a scene that is meant to tie into the Rosa Parks story. Aibileen is shown talking to another colored man, but they are seated in the back of the bus while the whites are in the front.
The purpose of The Help is to show the perspective of the early sixties from an African American maid’s view and how they suffered from society. Not only does Kathryn Stockett demonstrate partnership through her characters, but she shows inferiors taking a stand against social inconsistency. Both Aibileen and Minny were fitting the the story line because go how well they were able to demonstrate racial inequalities, while Skeeter proved gender inequalities. In the end, a strong point was proven to the viewers about how obvious societal changes have been over the decades. Thankfully all of these social problems are not as harsh today, although they do still exist everywhere in the world. One critique that I would like to bring forward is the spotlight on men in the sixties. Their status didn’t have a role in The Help. Their role in society seems to have been uninvolved, whereas in all actuality their role was viewed as aggressive. “…the past carries into the present and future. African American and other minority groups have had less opportunity to accumulate assets such as homes, land, and savings that can insulate them, and their children, from economic setbacks” (Schaefer, pp.69). Today, we are able to understand the struggles that were faced in the past. The set backs that our family members such as grand parents and great grandparents had may not affect some of us as much because it is very easy to earn a minimum wage job for most of us. Although minimum wage isn’t enough to make a living off of, it is at least the first step to saving money.