*It’s seldom that a movie comes along that evokes as many emotions as “The Help.” Although “The Help” does not begin to scratch the surface of the injustices suffered by African Americans during the film’s time span, it does bring to minf the old adage, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” So many blacks are still fighting for a decent education for their children, looking for employment, and can’t afford health care.
“The Help” not only showed some of the inequities that occurred as late as the 60s in this country but it reminds many African Americans what their parents went through at that time to gain equality. In spite of the struggles, lynchings and disenfranchisement that took place during the Jim Crow era, many of today’s ignorant blacks are trying to turn the clock back by idolizing a prison culture and wearing pants that show their behinds. In some communities the reprehensible black on black crimes exemplify a self-imposed form of extermination. Needless to say, “The Help” not only conjures up feelings of loathing for the perpetrators, but disdain for those who have not honored the sacrifices and deaths of the Africans Americans who have gone before them.
So often criticized for taking on roles as maids, black actresses tend to avoid those parts, but this was not the case with Oscar nominee Viola Davis. She knew “The Help” would help would help to jog the memory of many and educate some about a history they were unaware of or had been swept under the rug. “I lobbied hard as well as every black actress in Hollywood,” Davis says. “When you see a black actress playing a role in Hollywood in a big movie, you know every black actress is lobbying for that role because we don’t have a lot of them. That’s one thing.
“And I did a lot of reading. I just wanted to humanize her. I think that we have gotten so used to seeing these roles of maids and they’re always in the background. And they come in with a plate of food and then they leave the room. You never quite know who they are. I didn’t want that to happen in this. I thought it was an extraordinary opportunity to understand who these women were beyond the position of servitude.”
Filming in Mississippi was a character in itself for some of the crew. “The juxtaposition of that [was invaluable], especially knowing that you’re filming right near the Tallahatchie River where Emmett Till’s body was found six miles down the river was heart wrenching. Sharing stories on the set of so many cases of murder and torture due to race just stirred up so many emotions, just trying to understand. You forget what it’s like while you’re going to Walmart. You also then are reminded that, ‘okay, you’re in the 21st century,’ but at one time there was a war that happened here that left so many people dead and disenfranchised. And you feel the ghosts of the past in that city. Totally.
“Fifty years ago,” Davis continues, “just fifty years, which isn’t very, very long, you know, where that level of hatred [existed] and you still feel the remnants of that. And you still see them in Baptist Town, which is an all black community in Greenwood, Mississippi that has an 85% unemployment rate. I think the unemployment in the rest of the city is 15%. But Baptist Town, it’s 85%. And I think they’ve had one high school graduate in the last five years in Baptist Town. So you see how that past has still affected us.”
It was a blessing that Davis was on board because she did not let any stone go unturned-not even the man who hired her, director Tate Taylor. “Tate was very collaborative and I have a lot of respect for him. I thought the book was fabulous. But the one thing that I still will not give up to anyone is that you cannot describe to me how a black woman looks and who she really is. Because for me, I know these women. They’re my mommas. They’re my aunties. They’re all the people I grew up with. I have a different opinion of how I saw them. When I stepped onto the set, I could bring an experience that Tate coouldn’t bring. He just can’t bring [certain things] as a white man growing up in the South.
“You can’t tell me what Aibileen looks like. You know a lot of people were like, ‘She should be really bigger. She should be this. She should be that.’ That’s cool, but you know the first woman for me who was the most beautiful woman in the world, and in my life, was my Aunt Joyce. And my Aunt Joyce was over three hundred pounds. But for us, I have four sisters; we thought that woman was the most beautiful, stylish woman. We, as black women, we have a different viewpoint of weight, body images and skin tones. So there are a lot of little things that you can’t dictate to me. I can dictate to you. I can give you a different perspective. So I really had to collaborate with Tate. Or threaten him. Whichever came first [Laughs].”
Octavia Spencer (Minny Jackson), who along with the rest of the cast also puts in an amazing Oscar worthy performance, might not have had that chance had it not been for the fact she was friends with Tate Taylor. “The good Lord was smiling down at me, and I think my mom was in on it,” she enthuses. “Tate Taylor is one of my best friends. Brunson Green, who produced the film with Chris Columbus, he’s also one of my best friends. Tate grew up with Kathryn [Stockett, author of the novel]. And they were very, very, supportive of the idea of me [being cast as Minny], you know, if it ever got to be a movie, because Tate and Brunson optioned the book right away. And thank God they did because with Jennifer Hudson out there, Mo’Nique, AND Queen Latifah, it would have gone through those incarnations before it got to me.”
Rightly so, Spencer feels many young people will not understand the events covered in the film. “I’m glad that I wasn’t born during that time,” Spencer says. “I don’t think I would have believed it had I not seen a couple documentaries that my mom made us watch. One of them was ‘Eyes on the Prize,’ and I remembered after seeing it, I said, ‘I’ll never watch that again,’ because I was so depressed after it. So when I knew that we would be doing the film, I told Tate; ‘Anybody under 40 needs to watch this movie, especially the kids in their 20s because they will not understand what it was like. And this will be foreign to them.’ So he had the entire cast watch it. It was all news footage and the only way to make you understand what life was like was to put you back in time, and that’s what I loved about the film.”
In “30 Minutes or Less” Jesse Eisenberg’s character Nick delivers pizzas, a job he might would have had to take if his character in “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook venture had gone bust. In “30 Minutes or Less” Nick’s body would go boom if he doesn’t deliver money from a bank heist to some lame brain lowlifes. Eisenberg and cast members have had to defend this dark comedy against rumors that it is a take off on a real life situation where the deliveryman was blown to smithereens by a bomb attached to him. “When I got the script,” Eisenberg says, “I thought it was this amazing premise that gave this incredible opportunity for my character and for Aziz’s character to be forced to rob a bank. So it seemed like a great comedy where the script called for us to have to rob a bank, and the bomb was kind of the best vehicle and device for that storyline.”
Seemingly indicative of hard times, director Reuben Fleischer says the current economy certainly isn’t an after thought when looking at his film. “I think it very much does show what’s going on,” he explained. “I was very conscious of a movie called ‘Fargo’ and kind of the way it portrayed similar misguided crime plots in a very specific place. Tonally it’s darker than our film and less broad but I think like the characters, it clearly defined something I was super aware of and aspiring to, I guess, I could even say…As far as Jesse, Nick and Chet’s (Aziz Ansari) character I feel they are very emblematic of like post collegian trying to figure it out type of guys. It was rying to say where we’re at and how not entirely bleak but challenging things are these days for most of the people in the country.”