The Help – Movie Review

The Help – Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

The Help storyline centers around a daring and aspiring young writer Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan who dares to defy social convention in Jackson, Mississippi by writing a story about the “help”…the African American women who work in the white households as maids, cooks and nannies. 

I know that my particular affinity for the movie may be because I’m from the South, or because my Dad’s from Mississippi, or that my best friend is actually from Jackson, Mississippi.  Or maybe it stems from the fact that, just like the movie, my mom had a precious woman, Julia, who helped raise her and take care of cooking and household chores  who I still remember going to visit every time we went to Georgia to see my grandparents.  Julia was family. 

Or maybe I loved the movie because I found so much in Skeeter that I related to—feeling a little less beautiful and feminine than the social butterflies and debutantes I grew up with, and to be perfectly honest (since I’m relating to Skeeter in this), less so than my mother as well.  Not surprisingly, I too was kind of a “late bloomer” when it came to romance in my life.  And, like Skeeter, I also wanted to be a writer.

I realize that I may have liked the movie for any of these reasons, and definitely for a combination of them.  It certainly had a feeling of home for me.  However, I think it was much more than that.  I think it was just a great movie.  The box office seems to agree.  While the help didn’t open in first place at the box office, by week two, word had gotten out and it moved up to the first place in the box office, which is an unusual feat.  

As with any truly great story, it gives viewers a lot to think about.  You can’t help but think about how awful racism is.  My Dad said it was hard to even enjoy the movie (even though he said he really liked it) because he remembers those times in Mississippi so clearly.  He remembers the shooting of that young boy from the movie – it wasn’t but a few counties away from where he lived.  He remembers car bombs going off and killing people—all because of racism.  As ugly as it is to me, it’s a million times more so to my Dad because it’s so much more real to him.  I’ve seen it in movies.  He lived it in real life.

The Help also makes you think a lot about cliques and social ladders.  It makes you think about who has the power in your circle of friends and whether or not they are worthy of it.  It makes you think about the good (and the harm) you can do in the world—the ways you can inspire others and the ways you can tear them down.  It also makes you think thoughts about family relationships and forgiveness and grace and understanding.  And it ought to make you think about bravery and courage and sacrifice—about being willing to put yourself in harm’s way for the good of others (very Jesus-like, don’t you think?). 

But the kicker, the thing which got me most excited about the movie and writing a review, was reading my Bible this morning.  I came across this passage in Acts 13:49-51.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

Maybe I need to explain a little. 

As I said, the movie takes place in Jackson, Mississippi.  While most of the debutantes were getting married and having babies, “Skeeter” had just returned from college, determined to become a writer.  Skeeter had always been a little different than the other Southern Belles—maybe it was because her looks set her immediately apart (tall, freckled with red hair which was curly enough to be an afro), or maybe she was just wired differently to begin with—but in either case, though she was friends with the society girls, she wasn’t quite one of them. 

Just going to college in itself set her apart, but not nearly as much as the fact that she talked with the help as if they were friends.  She saw them as equals to be valued and friends to be enjoyed.  This at a time when the ring leader of the girls her age, Hillie Holbrook, was organizing a Home Health Sanitation Initiative to ensure all homes had outside bathrooms for the help—“colored” bathrooms so the help wouldn’t defile their own restrooms and spread disease to their families. 

And then Skeeter forever set herself apart from her peers when she decided to interview the help and write a story from their perspective—to write their stories.  What was it like to be a black woman working in a white household and raising white babies—all the while knowing that the very precious babies they poured their heart and souls into would one day become their own bosses, and most likely, become just like their arrogant, racist mothers?

The white women were all God-fearing women; at least they would claim to be.  They were church-folk and working to raise money for various causes and charities…even for those starving in Africa, ironically enough.  However, while they went to church and claimed to be Christian and touted Christian love and morality, they were somehow missing altogether that their behavior toward the help was anything but Christian. 

Skeeter was the one who embodied Christ to the help.  She wanted to hear their stories.  She didn’t judge.  She felt their pain.  She even walked in their shoes when she started to write that book, casting her lot in with theirs, knowing she would face persecution and opposition from her “friends” and peers. 

In the end, the book was a success, but Skeeter was an outcast.  Fortunately, she had a job offer in NYC and her friends (by this point in the story, her friends were no longer her peers, but the help) and family encouraged her to take it.  She wasn’t going to have any future in Jackson, Mississippi.  She was alienated from her peers and practically speaking had no marriage potential if she stayed in the South.  So she went on.  She went to a place where she would be better received.

Do you see why that passage in Acts struck me so much?  Here it is again.  Acts 13:49-51.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

Maybe I should give you a little more history on where this fits into the story.  Paul and Barnabas were dealing with racism in their own times.  Racism between Jews and Gentiles.  And Paul and Barnabas had just announced that salvation was for all, not just for the Jews. 

Think about it.  The Jews were just told that their spiritual snobbery was no longer acceptable.  They were told they should love and embrace as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God those whom they had despised, snubbed and looked down upon.   This might be bad enough to stir up a heap of trouble.  But then again, they may have just ignored it and pretended it never happened. 

If they were Southern, that’s what they would have done.  You can see it in The Help.  At first, the Southern Belles just pretend their friend Skeeter didn’t actually talk to the help (the black men and women) as friends.  They ignore Skeeter’s comments and her subtle disapproval of their snobbery.  She can have her own opinions, so long as she keeps them relatively her own.  They don’t have to agree. They just ignore it and hope it will all go away.

But, Skeeter didn’t just stop there, at the place of offering a little conviction to her own peers.  It wasn’t just that she irritated them with her thinking—it was so much more than that.  She let the blacks know they had value as well.  She listened to their stories, and then told their stories…giving them hope that they could one day be heard…have value. 

The same was true in Acts.  Paul and Barnabas didn’t just tell the Jews that salvation was for all, they also told the Gentiles.  This means the Jews couldn’t just sweep it under the proverbial rug.  The Gentiles were aware of it themselves.  And the Gentiles got excited about it.  They too were offered salvation! Someone heard their cry of spiritual persecution and told them they were equals.  They weren’t second class citizens before the Lord.  Acts 13: 48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many were appointed to eternal life believed.”

So, this message wasn’t really popular with the Jews.  And here is the thing which hit me—“the Jews incited the devout women of high standing”.  Isn’t that what happened in this movie?  The movie is about the battle with the devout women of high standing in Jackson, Mississippi.  As a woman, this really hits me hard.  It seems in the text that the Jews who wanted to cause trouble with Paul and Barnabas stirred up the women first, and then the men (but they likely just followed the women in their cause, so as to keep the peace at home—at least, that’s how it would be in the South!).  Then, once the women were all het up and the men going along with it all, Paul and Barnabas suffered persecution at their hands and eventually…they left.  They shook the dust—good riddance!—and went where they would be better received.

Skeeter did the same thing.  She shook things up, instigated change, and then shook the dust off her feet and went to a place where she would be better received.

There is so much more I could say here—about how Skeeter’s boyfriend could have stood by her, about how any of the husbands could have/should have stood up to their wives and said “Enough!” (when it was clear some of them actually wanted to), etc.  But, I think the thing that really hits me, as a girl from the South myself, is the power that we have, as women to stir things up.  Skeeter stirred things up in a good way, though it cost her dearly (although she gained so much more than she lost).  But the other women, all those snobby Southern Belles, and those devout Jewish women of Acts 13, they stirred up trouble and persecution.  And drug their men and children with them in the journey. 


In another act of divine timing, I was reading my favorite blog, It’s Almost Naptime and she had this entry which contained a bunch of links (and any link she has is worth checking into, just so you know).  And, one of the links led me to this other blog post which particularly related to The Help and our tendency to judge others. 

Read it and see if her description of “the woman” doesn’t make you think of Celia Foote, especially those of you who read the book!  And then see if you aren’t convicted and touched by what the Holy Spirit revealed to her. 

Questions for Discussion:

  • Who did you relate most to in the movie?  Skeeter, the society girls, or the help…or possibly even Celia Foote?  Why?
  • When have you been persecuted and/or intentionally left out by a group of people?  How have you responded to that pain?
  • In what ways do you struggle with judging others or having negative stereotypes/attitudes of racism?
  • Racism and slavery aren’t new— they were issues in Biblical times.  This is one of the things which made Jesus so radical—he tore down all the racial boundaries.  What examples can you think of where Jesus upset the social standards of class and race?
  • Your attitudes aren’t just your own.  They affect others.  You have the power to stir up change or to stir up trouble.  Is this a power you are aware of?  How can you use it for good? 
  • The real difference between stirring up change and stirring up trouble is simply the heart.  Would you say that you have Christ’s heart for people?  Have you ever asked Him to give you His love for others?