Video Paraphrase: The early 1960's South. White ladies with big hair. Apatowian ingénue Emma Stone is the prodigal belle, returning home from college. She is named Skeeter because no doy. This is a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE based on a SENSATIONAL BESTSELLER, people. Skeeter tells her mama she got a job writing for the Jackson Journal. Mama says, "Great! You can write my obituary: Charlotte Phelan, dead. Her daughter—still single." So sassy!And that is the story of how everything changed and there was no more racism. The End.
Tony-winning and Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis is a nanny for a white lady. She is named Aibileen. She is clearly cleverer than the clueless white lady for whom she works. This is tragic, but the wacky period music assures us we can chuckle at her soul-destroying fate.
Something something Skeeter's white lady friend writes legislation requiring white people to build a separate bathroom for "the help." Skeeter is snarky. Aibileen overhears her snarkiness and grins. MAYBE THESE TWO LADIES CAN FORM AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP!!!
Meet some more black nannies/maids. Zany music. In voiceover, Skeeter says, "These women raise white children. We love them and they love us. [YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?—ed.] But they can't even use the toilets in our houses."
Abilieen's friend and fellow "help" Minny pretends to use the toilet at her employer's house. (I think her employer is the same white lady who wrote the Bathroom Bill.) She gets fired. Skeeter tells her editor, "I want to write something from the point of view of the help." The music starts getting serious, yo.
Something something the nannies/maids don't want to be interviewed. A black preacher gives a sermon about being brave. GOOD TIMING! Aibileen will be interviewed! Now ALL the "help" will be interviewed! Words on the screen tell us everything is about to change OMG.
Skeeter writes a book called "The Help." Everyone's reading it! White ladies are scandalized! Gospel music. Montage of white ladies and black ladies hugging and grabbing hands and laughing, evidence of their UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP.
Coming this August.
Except for how whooooooops that's not true. Also: Women in low-wage jobs are still frequently not allowed to use employers' bathrooms, or are only allowed to use particular bathrooms, or are only allowed ridiculously short and infrequent bathroom breaks. (Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, for example, addresses how maids, waitresses, and Wal-Mart workers are all frequently subject to absurd bathroom rules.)
Of course, a movie about the denial of modern low-wage workers' basic dignity would never get made (no less a movie about them unionizing, instead of being saved by a privileged white person)—because everyone at the studio involved in making this movie (Disney) has maids and nannies and other low-wage female workers (probably brown-skinned or Eastern European immigrants) about whose dignity, or lack thereof, they don't want to be reminded. They want to tell feel-good stories set to Motown music about white people saving brown people, back in the Bad Old Days, WHICH WE ARE SO TOTALLY PAST FOR SURE.
Gabe, who gets the hat tip, wonders for whom a film like this is made: "The question I'm asking is: Who is supposed to FEEL BETTER after watching this movie? Clearly, based on the emotionally manipulative soundtrack, SOMEONE is supposed to feel better, I just can't figure out WHO!" And that's who—the people who tell these stories. The pop novelists, the publishers, the screenwriters, the producers, the directors. They're the ones who want to read/see/hear stories that reassure them that they're good people, artists, not exploitative garbage capitalists who don't recognize the humanity of anyone who makes less than they do.
Dear Hollywood: If you want to make a REVOLUTIONARY FILM about the friendship between a black woman and a white woman, try this radical idea—two women, one black, one white, who meet, share similar interests, discover they have the same wicked sense of humor, totes dig each other, and start hanging out. I'm pretty sure that's LITERALLY never been put on film before. Who says there are no new ideas under the sun? That one's free. Love, Liss.