Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I Think....Book & Movie

As a child, I remember hearing things on the news. I heard the terms riots, Klu Klux Klan, civil rights, beatings and murders. I had no idea what exactly was happening, but I knew instinctively that there was something seriously wrong. I became more aware of the issues, worse in some parts of the south, as a teen. Then came the shocking assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

In my "almost" adult years, I had a doctor whose secretary had a distinctly southern accent. One day, I asked her about it. She said she and her husband had moved to Canada from the U.S. I inquired whether there was any particular reason and she responded, "My husband is black."  I looked at her quizzically wondering how this could possibly be an adequate explanation. I was still young. Eventually I learned. I realized how serious and unbelievable circumstances were during my generation.

This summer, I read the book, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. It describes life in Jackson, Mississippi during the 60's through the eyes of black maids who worked for wealthy families. I found it rivetting, insightful and disturbing. It's hard to believe that the story was rejected 60 times before it was finally published, only to become a New York Times best seller. This was different from my normal reading fare. I'm glad I picked it up and I highly recommend it.

The plot centres around several black maids who were asked by one young woman, an aspiring author and member of a group of wealthy, educated white friends, to risk their lives by telling their stories. The request was that they describe their treatment by the families for which they worked. They hesitated at first, fearing retribution. Despite their fears, one by one they came onboard with the idea.

When the movie version was to be released, I was worried. I have rarely seen a well done film version of a book. Then, I read some reviewer comments and saw previews which suggested that the story was a comedy. How could this be? How could they make light of such a serious topic? I finally went to find out for myself. I was surprised to discover that the movie was extremely well done and followed the story closely. Of course, there were liberties taken and there were omissions of details, as is necessary when shortening a lengthy novel to two viewing hours. This did not, however affect the overall content. There were humourous incidents, but the story was presented seriously. The acting was superb. It fully described the snobbishness and the manipulations of the weak by those who considered themselves superior. It showed the attempts by one woman to improve her status and the struggles by a newbie to the community who just wanted to belong. Then of course, it showed the maids, their lives, their work and their child rearing expertise. It demonstrated forms of racism and abuse tolerated by the black community in order to retain their menial jobs. The maids, were in fact more down to earth, loving, understanding and competent than many of their employers.

My only criticism would be that the movie didn't fully present the frightening aspects and the danger of the meetings. The sneaking around and the lengths taken by the author and the maids to maintain secrecy were much more intense in the book than in the movie.

I am rarely interested in attending a movie twice. I would go to see this one again. The first time, I was so engrossed in the acting and the story, that I didn't get to enjoy the efforts by the filmaker to replicate life in the 60's. Part way through the film, I noticed the background details. I saw a box of the all too familiar "Breeze" laundry detergent used by my mom when I was a child. I'm certain that there are more props that I would like to see and reminisce about. It's a strange reason to go to a movie a second time, but nonetheless, I would.

I think the main message of the story is obvious. People are people. The maids wanted was what everyone wants. They wanted to improve their conditions, feel safe and make life better for their own children.

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