The Power of a Single Writer — The Help (2011) Review

The Help

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“But I know some writers who are too damn lazy to rewrite. They write a book and they think, ‘Well, that’s it.’ They don’t rewrite enough.”

James Michener

Many underestimate the thoughts kept by those who prefer to remain silent. Many stand strong with those who are brave enough to speak up and be a representative for the people who are helpless to stand on their own. And those who read gain as much as those who write.

I watched The Help (2011) after being bugged by the endless short reels of the movie on Instagram a while ago (along with short clips of other films such as The Menu and Cruella), and I found it quite astonishing, not because of how the movie touches racial issue among people of different colors, but because of how they emphasize the untapped power one can have by not being restricted to what they want to speak, particularly through writing.

Sure, the film is about racial prejudice and unfair treatment towards people of color, but I was more fascinated by how they grew and developed as the sole character who was apparently a writer in the film decided to take a stand and show the public the views from the opposite side that they had lacking knowledge of. But all it took was a single person to bring them all to stand up, and that single person was a writer.

I’m writing a detailed explanation as to why I find this particular film sparks my interest in writing even further, so there are bound to be major spoilers ahead. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting scenes that play significant roles in the film.

Let’s Talk about Skeeter

Skeeter Phelan, the writer (image credit: IMDB)

Initially, I didn’t expect Skeeter to be playing quite a big role in the film. Then it kind of struck me — nobody would expect a writer, who would often be brushed off in a world where people who speak through verbal means would be viewed to be superior to those who speak through writing, to be the one who ignited the spark of many. She’s mostly reserved and has a lot of thoughts in her mind that nobody knows. She had her own standing, and she was logical enough to see reason.

All thanks to Constantine, the help who raised her and the person Skeeter looked up to when she was growing up. She was raised in a family where they didn’t discriminate between colors, but she was the only person who didn’t allow prejudice to control her. Her mother held a position that restrained her from her moral compass, which was shown in the film that she was the one being directly (though forcibly) responsible for the absence of Constantine, Skeeter’s guardian.

Constantine taking care of young Skeeter (image credit: IMDB).

Her untwisted view of the people of different colors is part of the reason why she was more than willing to see through how the whites treated the helps the way they were. That was also the reason Skeeter is the only person in the group of her friends to see the bits of help as humans and not lesser beings.

She returned from college to be an aspiring writer, and even though she started out as a housekeeping advice column for the local newspaper, that didn’t stop her from trying to be something more. She sought out Elaine Stein to propose a manuscript about the help, which gave her an opportunity to unknowingly change the lives of many.

Let’s Take a Look at Her Effort

Skeeter is meeting Aibileen to talk about her offer (image credit: IMDB)

Being given a green light from Miss Myrna herself regarding the proposal, it’s an opportunity that our Skeeter couldn’t let go easily. She started with Aibileen, who initially hesitated because to them, revealing how their employers were treating them meant a death sentence.

But deep down she did want to expose the unjust treatment they were receiving, so eventually she complied, with the condition that they did it discreetly. From this moment, we knew that the writer gave her a glimpse of hope for changing the course of their lives for the better if not much. All she needed was someone to finally see eye to eye with her and dare to do something about it.

Though alone at first, her best friend, Minny, eventually joined her, but not before she gave Skeeter a stern warning if she planned to double-cross them with the secrets they unveiled. Skeeter knew the risks she was getting herself and the help into, but she had the right mind, “someone had to do something”. While Aibileen was the spark that was ignited by Skeeter, Minny was the fire that the writer needed to see this effort come to fruition.

Skeeter interviews Minny and Aibileen for the book she’s writing (image credit: IMDB)

Writing a book under time constraints was not an easy feat, of course. Skeeter was restricted to a small window of time to show a copy to another publishing company (Harper & Row) to publish it. She needed more materials, and Minnie was playing a big role in encouraging other helps to give their input for the writers to accomplish it. Eventually, after the last straw of which Yule May, another help, was taken in because she was accused of theft, a lot of help in the neighborhood started to gather in Aibileen’s to give their own inputs for Skeeter to write.

This goes to show that when push comes to shove, they will reach out to someone they see as hope. The writer was their hope to make the world see how it truly is to be “the help” for the privileged.

What Did It Yield?

Skeeter saying goodbye to Minny and Abilyn (image credit: IMDB)

It costs her friendship with her old friends and spouse, but that was the risk she agreed to take when she wrote the book. But it yielded impressive results in the end — her book was published and was quickly distributed throughout the town. The one that took a massive toll was her ex-best friend, Hilly, who treated the helps poorly, especially Yule May and her own mother whom she sent to the nursing home.

The public’s eyes were opened because of the book and changed the course of lives of the help, all thanks to Minnie’s encouragement, Aibileen’s willingness to ignite the spark of hope, and Skeeter herself to offer an opportunity for them all to have civil rights. Skeeter was eventually offered a job at a publishing house in New York and, while hesitant to leave her home, eventually accepted it due to Minnie and Aibileen encouraging her. They believed that Skeeter could do something more for the people and herself, and so she took the opportunity and bid her farewells with her newfound best friends.

Celia Foote and Minnie (image credit: IMDB)

As a writer myself, I wondered if I could ever have the same determination as Skeeter. The power one can have as a writer is often underestimated. It’s very foreign for people to see a writer being a beacon of hope, but it is often the case. A lot of revolution can take place when there is someone who’s willing to act as a catalyst, and in this case, through writing.

So, Skeeter’s role in the story, though is dismissed from time to time because people are often fixated on the issue between the helped and the privileged, and the heartwarming relationship between Minnie and Celia Foote — her new employer after Minnie was fired by Hilly — has a significant impact on people’s lives, and that can be a motivation for writers to keep doing what they are doing. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, maybe each of us can inspire others in a way that we don’t yet see.

As a side note, the book that this film was based upon had been rejected roughly 60 times due to the controversy it created, but thankfully it was seen through and published. This film is definitely top-tier in my book, and I’d love to see more of this.

Author

  • Muhammad Hariz

    A ’00 Malaysian freelance writer for MugenMilano. Occasionally writes for fun; otherwise, going to the gym and playing video games would be the R&R for Hariz. Having a keen interest in the area of gaming and technology, Hariz’s written materials would mostly be tech-related and gaming news, particularly in adventure, horror, and fighting genre. Doesn’t stop him from writing other interesting topics, though, as long as it is worth checking out.

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