The Help is enjoying the success most dramas this year haven’t quite reached: 100-million dollar baby status. Actually, The Help grossed $160 million, unheard of for a movie that only stars women and isn’t necessarily about sex and a city, or a wedding, or this guy or that guy. And yet, for all of its success, its director, who is arguably responsible for bringing the thing to the screen at all, not to mention making it the crowdpleaser that it is. In the hands of anyone else, The Help’s writer/director would be lauded right along with the film but because Taylor is unknown that has so far eluded him.
There are only a small handful of films ever nominated for Best Picture or winning that received a solid A from the Yahoo users movie section. You might think that’s a ridiculous barometer, but what I like about that rating system as opposed to, say, IMDb’s, is that at Yahoo Movies they have no agenda. They aren’t fanning a movie to get on top of their list and they aren’t really a specific crowd of cinephiles, fanboys or what have you. They are just people going to see movies. While no film has ever received lower than a B- and been nominated for Best Picture, very few have earned the A grade. Those movies, as far as I could tell, are: Toy Story 3, Up, Avatar, The Blind Side, The King’s Speech and The Help.
That says a lot. The New York Times’ Melena Ryzick (aka The Carpetbagger) did a write-up for Taylor I somehow missed. It goes into his background, his history growing up in Mississippi, how he came to the rights for the book (his childhood friend is the book’s author). The article also talks about the amount of research Viola Davis took on. She also addresses the ridiculous double standard placed on her to carry both the burden of our shameful past and the burden of presenting it now in a politically correct way. It isn’t enough that the movie exists at all, that it made $160 million, but because it isn’t quite PC enough it doesn’t go quite far enough for white writers, and some black writers, who object to what I think are tensions that still exist today. Say what you will about The Help but for me it made me think about the lives we’re living right now. How far have we really come? Will this movie inspire other young women to take pen to paper to tell their story, black or white? I hope so. Anyway, the article is well worth the read and I’m sorry I missed it earlier this month. Here’s Davis, eloquent as always:
“There was so many expectations placed on us,” she said. “Expectations from the African-American community. Expectations from the people who read the book and really wanted to keep the integrity of the characters. Expectations from the people who lived this life. And then our expectations.”
She at least expected the film to cause debate. “I knew it was coming,” she said after the lunch, “because I understand where it’s coming from, I really do. People are tired of those images — of the maid, uneducated, a thick dialect.”
“But what I stood by and what I still stand by,” she continued, “is that those women actually existed. They’re my mother, and they’re my grandmothers, and they’re people who paid the price so we could enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Beyond all that, she added, she stood behind her work.
“You’ve got to get beyond the image and the message and look at the execution,” she said. Of Aibileen, she said: “I found her to be a brave character. I was attracted to her because she was quiet and simple, and I felt like she was someone that I knew. I didn’t feel like she was a device or function. I felt like I could put my hand on her. And I felt like when people saw her life on screen, if I was successful, they would be moved by it.”