From the vault: The Help is an unflinching look at racism in the 1960s

Barry C Chung
Barry C Chung |

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At a time when racial tensions were sky high in the United States, the opening voiceover of The Help speaks volumes. "Looking after white babies is what I do," says Aibileen (Viola Davis), dryly referring to the matronly duties she and other black maids carried out during that period.

The film is set in early-1960s Jackson, Mississippi, where both the director Tate Taylor, and his friend Kathryn Stockett, on whose novel the film is based, grew up. It is a well-balanced comedy with heart-warming drama that tackles racism without being too preachy. 

Recent college grad Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns home to Jackson. She dreams of being a writer but initially settles on a job as a columnist for a local paper. While researching an assignment, she's fascinated by the stories Aibileen has to tell about the daily abuses endured by black maids, and decides to record them in a book. She convinces others, including Aibileen's best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) to spill the beans. At first they're reluctant, but soon realise that people need to know about the rampant discrimination that exists.

A stellar cast brings out the poignant storytelling. Although Stone nails the modern woman determined-to-change-the-world character, it's Spencer's adorable Minny who doles out the laughs. The fact the three lead actors are all now Oscar winners - Spencer for this film, and both Davis and Stone this year for their roles in Fences and La La Land respectively - is even more reason to check out this film

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe, but above all, you'll revel at the talent Jackson has given the worlds of fiction and film, and leave the cinema a changed person.