Fighting for the help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am


According to Section one of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, December 6, 1865: 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.'

American history will forever be haunted by slavery. Blacks were subjected to the most cruel and horrendous treatment by their owners. Once slavery was abolished, Social injustice remained, and the benefits of the 13th Amendment took years, if not decades, to trickle down into everyday society.

As a result, many black females became maids. Although former slave owners were now considered employers, prejudice remained at the heart of life in the South. 'Employers' resorted to more indirect methods of discrimination towards their hired hands.

Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1969, Kathryn Stockett grew up in these times. She explores discrimination in her hometown in her debut novel, The Help, the movie version of which hits Hong Kong cinemas next week. But the road to getting published was long and painful. She was rejected by more than 60 literary agents and was on the brink of giving up. That's when her childhood friend and fellow Jackson native Tate Taylor received the manuscript.

Taylor, an actor and director, said he was blown away. 'I was moved by the truth of the story, about these unlikely women coming together to create change in Mississippi in 1963,' he said. 'I called Kathryn and just said: 'This is fantastic. You cannot give up ... This will be published. If it doesn't, I'll make it into a movie.''

Luckily for Stockett, the book did get picked up, spending months on the New York Times bestseller list, so a film version was inevitable.

The film delves into the lives of a tight-knit network of maids in Jackson, and an ambitious young writer's quest to expose their hardships.

After graduating from university, Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to her hometown of Jackson. She's not wired the same way as most Southern women in the 1960s; she wants to become a writer, and is less concerned about finding a husband, settling down and starting a family. More importantly, she believes in equal rights for all, regardless of race.

After meeting maid Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter decides to write a book chronicling the life of maids in the town. Like Skeeter, Stockett and Taylor were pretty much raised by their maids. 'Our mothers were single moms who had to work,' said Taylor. 'And they, like the women in the story, needed to get help with the children. Kathryn and I like to refer to the women who raised us as our co-mothers.'

However, Skeeter can't get Aibileen, Minny (Octavia Spencer) or any of the other maids to talk. They are fearful of losing their jobs and jeopardising their families' safety. But Skeeter keeps on at them, pushing them to realise that their stories need to be told, and they deserve to make their voices heard.