Originally posted August 24, 2011.
Yesterday, I finally got to see another movie in theaters. It had been a while, what with family vacations and Houston visits, and I was happy to be back in my red leather seat with the lights slowly dimming. When I’m at home, I love to go to lots of movies, especially since my mom will not only see all the artsy ones with me, but she’ll also pay for my ticket.
The Help was a great movie for a mother-daughter movie date. Not only does it speak to relationships between women of different generations, races, and social circles, but my mom and I had just finished reading the book. Plus, we like inspiring, sort of cheesy movies, and this one had moments of both. It helped me feel much better after my last emotional blog post and an awful first day back at work.
Overall, I was pleased with the adaptation from book to movie. I love studying adaptations and I thought a lot about how they were going to adapt this one as I was reading the original novel. I was worried about one of the child actors, the girl they chose to play Mae Mobley. In the book, I loved reading about the relationship between Mae and Aibleen, the black maid who raises her, and I didn’t know how they were going to pull this off in the film. I know they hire 3-4 year old actors and actresses all the time, but they usually don’t have to navigate such complicated roles. They did cut some of these complexities in the film, but overall, it was still one of the most moving portions. I cried easily when Aibleen had to leave her “Baby Girl” (but I cry at movies a lot, so this really is no surprise).
On the other hand, this adaptation still had its pitfalls. I feel like Hollywood changed a edited some characters a little too much and the story lost a lot of what made it real. When I read the novel, I felt the fear that these women felt. Stockett clearly explains how these black women, brave as they were, were almost completely controlled by the white community. I had learned about the Jim Crow Laws and segregation when I was in elementary school, but I never felt the daily reality of their situation until I read this book. In the movie, they still show some of this fear. Aibleen eyes all the white people casually strolling around them while Skeeter rather loudly explains her idea to write a book from the perspective of the help. And Aibleen’s mad dash after Medger Evers’ murder definitely felt like she was running for her life. But when I think back on the movie as a whole, I remember more laughter than gasps of suspense or fear and the book was more of a mix.
But that’s not my biggest problem with the movie. The way they cleaned up the white characters bothered me more. In the movie, Skeeter always seems to find the right thing to say, always seems to know exactly how to relate to the maids. But in the book, she stumbles more often. She says things that embarrass them, discount them, and still places them in a subordinate level of society. Even though Skeeter wants to only help the black maids, she doesn’t always understand how to do this properly. The screenplay turns all of the white characters into either perfect villains, or perfect heroes. Hilly was absolutely horrible from the beginning to the end, and Skeeter could do no wrong. But in the real world, things aren’t that clear-cut and more importantly, history is not that clear-cut. I still appreciate that the film tried to tell a story that history has overlooked, but I hate that they had to clean it up for Hollywood instead of showing the complexities that Stockett witnessed and wrote about in her novel. When it comes to history, making it simpler doesn’t make it better; it avoids the truth.