I’m a little late on the news that The Help finally made it to the #1 spot in its second week (blame it on the cold medicine). There was so much positive buzz (and some murmuring) on this one that I had to read the book before it opened in theaters. I’m glad that I did for two reasons. One, I couldn’t put it down. Secondly, there were some major things that they glossed over in the movie. Hey, they only have so many hours to tell the story.
For all of the accolades (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are amazing), I just couldn’t ignore the detractors and my blog partner Toni addresses that over at Girl TD. Still, I just couldn’t shake the, “people are more comfortable seeing black women as maids” and “we have so many other stories to tell” comments. The truth is, for many women in that time period there weren’t many other options. There’s a line in the movie where Aibileen is asked, “When you were a little girl did you always know you were going to be a maid?” The answer is yes. That got me to thinking. By the time that this movie begins in 1961, young women who were coming of age, unlike Aibileen who was already in her fifties, were just beginning to be exposed to other possibilities.
I hopped into the time machine (a.k.a. the Internet) and traveled through history to find out what women like Aibileen, Minnie, and my grandmother might have been seeing. I’m sure that at some point they plunked down thirty-five cents and picked up a copy of Ebony magazine and read about actresses like Diahann Carrol and Nichelle Nichols who were starring on Broadway. They may even have listened to their radios when White House correspondents described the beauty and elegance of Madame Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the visiting first lady of the Ivory Coast.
At some point they had seen glamorous photos of Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge and even a feature of Cicely Tyson in the very same magazine. They most certainly had heard the uplifting voice of Mahailia Jackson and the sexy sound of Sara Vaughan. It probably wasn’t lost on them that even then there was a list of America’s 100 Richest Negroes. And I found it most interesting that in the same year that The Help ends and Aibileen steps into the role of writer, Maya Angelou was an associate editor in Egypt.
The women who lived in that time were well aware of what was going on in their communities and the world. But they had to play with the hand they were dealt, as we do today. Just as the women in the movie changed with the times, so did our foremothers. Our current circumstances don’t diminish our dreams, our possibilities, or our truth. That’s why we can look back today and see how far we’ve come. The Help was one story of many, and I’m glad it was told.