By now, Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help, has become a household read for many Americans—and many southerners. Stockett tells the (fictional but based on reality) story of black maids living and working in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s. While reading the book I felt a wide range of emotions from anger to happiness to sadness to guilt to hope. Some of the scenes were hard to swallow. I could hardly bear to read accounts of the way that some of the maids were treated. Since I am from Jackson and recognized many of the street names and places of businesses throughout the book, it left me wondering: what would I have been like in 1960? Would I have floated along with the “mainstream” (wrong) thinking of the day like Mrs. Lefoldt or would I have had the courage like Skeeter to stand up for what I believed was right?
I had the privilege of being invited to an early screening of the Dreamworks movie. Without giving away any details, I can assure you that the movie is worth seeing. Everything from the town and home scenes to the actors’ accents are realistic (it was filmed in Mississippi!) . After the movie, Director Tate Taylor (a Jackson, Miss native, Prep and Ole Miss grad) and actress Octavia Spencer, held a panel discussion where they talked about their experiences in the movie and took questions from the audience.
Taylor and Stockett were childhood friends. After Stockett’s manuscript was rejected by 60 potential publishers, Taylor finally agreed to take a look at it and was blown away. Stockett eventually got published and Taylor was first in line for the movie rights. When questioned about the lawsuit Stockett is facing, Tate replied with a personal story. After September 11th, 2001, he and Stockett were roommates in New York. Reeling from the events that day, Stockett cried to him that she was homesick—not for her family, but for Dimitri, the black maid who raised her. Realizing her feelings, Stockett began to wonder why she never asked Dimitri about herself—where she worked, where she went to church, about her family. Since Dimitri had passed away, Kathyrn began writing short stories about Dimitri’s life to console herself. Eventually…these stories transformed into The Help.
My favorite character in the book and in the movie was Minny—the dynamic and outspoken maid who gets fired for her strong personality and refusal to submit. I was delighted to meet Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays Minny, and have an opportunity to thank her for her work in the movie. Octavia was warm, funny and energetic—she made sure the audience knew there was a DESSERT reception at the Ritz Carlton immediately following the panel and that we were all obligated to come. Of course, the crowd willingly complied. You don’t tell Octavia (Minny) no.