I took another look at this movie a few days ago. It’s held up rather well since its release a little over 20 years ago
And I wanted to dissect just why.
Of course the significance of the story cannot be denied.
And the performances are stellar.
But I also think there was a performer who should have gotten more acclaim for his part, as it was one of the most difficult to play.
Andre Braugher as Thomas Searles
Idealistic and oh so ready to go to war to prove that a colored man could hold his own, Thomas Searles was an educated man with such infectious exuberance that it bordered on naiveté. Never having fought before, he appeared to think this would be a gentleman’s war. It was anything but, and while he was almost broken, he did not break. Thomas was antagonized by Denzel Washington’s character Private Trip, protected by Carey Elwes character Major Forbes, and looked upon with pity by his good friend Captain Robert Gould Shaw, played memorably by Matthew Broderick.
As much as I devoured Denzel’s performance, I also savored Andre’s. He was just so darn cute about it all, and when his mettle was tested he dug deep within himself and stood tall. This was a very necessary character, as was Denzel’s. Two extremes, polar opposites in life experiences, and I wondered how each actor felt about their parts. Mr. Dignity himself, Morgan Freeman certainly should be mentioned. From playing Easy Reader on the PBS show The Electric Company, to his turn as the scary, sadistic pimp Fast Black in Street Smart, the man showed just how versatile an actor he is.
In this ensemble cast I see where those behind The Help could have come away with a movie along the caliber of Glory. The blueprint was there. Instead The Help movie, from what I can tell of the trailers and early reviews falls back on silliness and a whitewashing so thorough that it sucks out much of what the novel hoped to accomplish.
Even the eye popping colors of the film look as if the Brandy Bunch decor was studied and used as a guide. Using colors that seem lifted from the Los Angeles Lakers uniforms, the trailer is off and running in vivid purple and yellow, giving off a cartoonish feel (which may have been the intent).
In much the same way as the novel downplays what the maids went through, the movie appears to do the same, thereby spoiling any chance at a lasting legacy.
If anything, it can be looked upon as folly. Those who thought they knew but clearly didn’t. Too puffed up with the belief that Kathryn Stockett had captured the “affection” between blacks and whites, as published interviews show, quotes were given talking about how the movie would still be “fun”.
Yes, this is a woman’s film. Or what Hollywood thinks will drive women of all ages and races into the theater. Lite fare with a bit of conscience on the side.
With the influx of the scatterbrained, vapid comedies of late (I don’t think I have to mention them, but most deal with young white women finding love among the sheets) The Help movie hopes to rectify this situation. But does it?
Skeeter could have been Matthew Broderick’s character, with Emma Stone’s questioning eyes taking in all that she heard and saw, processing and acting the part of not just a leader but a true friend, publicly fighting for the maids rights and not just her own writing career.
Aibileen could have been Morgan Freeman’s character had the screenwriters seen fit to give her role more stature and wisdom. Minny could have been another Denzel, seething with anger, lashing out at those who’d wronged her and her family. If enough research had been done about the times, Minny was a character who could have been more than just a shoot from the hip with a quip mouthpiece.
There is no character I gather like Andre Braugher’s. Yule May could have been re-drawn, as she was the maid who’d at least had a few years of college. Unfortunately, it appears no one knew what they had, or the possibilities.
Again, this comes down to poor, to little or no research. Relying on Tate Taylor, Stockett’s good friend who also had a pact with the author early on to direct the movie (and who also wrote the screenplay), this is possibly where the biggest error was initiated by the movie studio.
Certainly money will be made. But the film will be picked apart with a swiftness that the novel never got.
What we all can agree on is that this is an important subject. But I hasten to add, that Kathryn Stockett didn’t do it justice.
When Aibileen cries at the movie’s end, and Mary J Blige wails in song and sorrow with her, exactly what is she crying over?
Was she raped at gunpoint by several men, like innocent housewife Recy Taylor and sixteen year old Betty Jean Owens?
Was she recalling justice denied? See this post on Danielle McGuire’s novel At the Dark End of The Street for more on how rape was used during segregation.
In her fifty-three years as a black woman in one of the most racist states in the country during the segregated 60s, was she recalling just how tough it had been to be poor, a woman alone and a domestic?
Or, like in the novel, were her tears simply because she’d been separated from her “special baby”
I walk out the back door, to the terrible sound a Mae Mobley crying again. I start down the driveway, crying too, knowing how much I’m on miss Mae Mobley, praying her mama can show her more love. But at the same time feeling, in a way, that I’m free, like Minny. Freer than Miss Leefolt, who so locked up in her own her head she don’t even recognize herself when she read it. And freer than Miss Hilly. That woman gone spend the rest of her life trying to convince people she didn’t eat that pie. I think about Yule May setting in jail. Cause Miss Hilly, she in her own jail, but with a lifelong term. (Aibileen, Pg 444)
There’s more of course, but while the sight of a woman crying would make anyone feel, it’s hollow once you realize WHY she’s crying, or worse yet, what Kathryn Stockett believed would be enough to make a black woman break down. Separation from her ward Mae Mobley and her heartwrenching cries for her. We just can’t escape it, the belief that somehow African Americans back in the day were so in love with, and so identified with their white employers and their children, that it would damn near kill us to be separated from them.
I’ll take Denzel’s reason for “crying”. That even though he was bound and lashed, he refused to cry out, and took it like a man. That scene was one of the most powerful in Glory, a film that had several such compelling and moving moments (campside prayer of all the black soldiers was also a favorite of mine) it was a pleasure to view again.
Denzel cries and we all feel it
Aibileen’s tears don’t resonate as this scene has through the years.
And that’s what the filmmakers of The Help may want to kick themselves for. The chance they had, and promptly blew.
An early review of the film can be found here
Denzel Washington wins the Best Supporting Actor Oscar