I grew up in California, but some of my roots were in Mississippi, where this film takes place. And because I spent many summers in that state, I was afforded a unique opportunity to observe what actually went on there at that time.
The film "The Help' focuses on the fact that many White children were being raised by Black nannies and maids, as was portrayed in the movie by two of the main characters, Aibileen and Minny. The film points out that well-do-do White families relied on these women to raise their children for them. There were also working class White women who relied on Black women to take care of their children while they worked outside of the home. My own mother went back to her government job in Washington D.C. where my father was stationed with the Marine Corps, shortly after I was born. My nanny's name was Rachel, and she had also taken care of my mother and her siblings when they were children.
I still remember Rachel taking me on walks around the block of our neighborhood. She always brought a small chair along with us, so that I could sit down and rest if I got tired. Rachel was well-loved and was very special to generations of my family. But I also remember the segregation, the "White Only" and the "Colored Restroom" signs, the racial slurs, and the hateful speech that was rampant at that time in our country. I could not then, nor can I now, understand it. It must have been so painfully hard to be Black in America at that time.
"The Help' also brings out the fact that there was a set pattern that White women were expected by their families and society at that time to follow. The main character in the film, Skeeter, was a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, as it is more affectionately referred to, and aspired to be a journalist, instead of doing what her mother wanted her to do and get married. I too, was a student at that institution for a short while in the 1960's. Ole Miss was a prime place in the South for young women to go to find the "best husband an education could buy," as is pointed out in the film. Of course, fortunately for the young women who followed, that reality also has changed with the times.
The idea that a woman could have a career and not just a marriage is one point that is made in 'The Help.' But the fact that many White children were raised by Black women, women that they loved and admired when they were young, but then were taught by their parents and by the culture in which they grew up to hold racist attitudes towards, is the most important point made in the film. And the courage of these women to stand up for their rights at a time when that was a very difficult thing to do, is truly remarkable.
'The Help' shows what America was like, particularly in the South in the 1960's, and why the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Movement, which both began at that time, were so very important to the progress towards equality in our country. It also reminds us that all of our children should be taught the importance of how it was then and to warn all Americans when we see racist Tea Party signs degrading President Obama and his family, or hear hateful rhetoric and sexist remarks, that we as a Nation do not ever want to go there again! Today in America, I am happy to say, that on the progressive side of the aisle, the sisterhood is colorblind.