A novel released in 2009, then made into a movie in 2011, The Help (by Kathryn Stockett) is about the life of several black maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, and the Intrepid Reporter, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who interviews them to try and get their stories out to the world.The film has received note for both its fine performances and its questionable portrayal of history. It received four Academy award nominations: Best Picture, Actress and two Actress in a Supporting Role. Octavia Spencer won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
From the little we seen of her it seems Elizabeth's own mother was also abusive.
Adaptational Attractiveness: Skeeter. In the novel, she's described as being tall and gangly with sharp features and frizzy hair. The nickname "Skeeter" came from her brother, who, upon seeing her as newborn exclaimed: "It's not a baby, it's a skeeter!" Skeeter being slang for mosquito. It's highly doubtful that anyone would think the lovely Emma Stone resembled a mosquito.
Milder examples for Hilly and Elizabeth. In the book, Hilly is described as pudgy and out of shape in ill-fitting clothes, and Elizabeth is unattractively bony with extremely thin hair. The actresses in the film have none of these traits.
Alpha Bitch: Hilly Holbrook is this for the entire town of Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter is part of her Girl Posse until she rebels.
Author Avatar: Skeeter is a transparent stand-in for Stockett. In so far as a major storyline centers on her and that the conflict of the book centered around discussion of race roles is amplified by having it be set in the 1960s, rather than the 2000s when Stockett performed her research.
Batman Gambit: Minny revealed the truth about the "terrible awful" because she knew that Hilly would do everything she could to keep people from realizing it was her, keeping them mostly safe from retribution. She was right.
There's also minor character Miss Hester, who had a reputation in town for being a very sweet, kind person, until her maid revealed Miss Hester made her wash her hands with Clorox "for hygienic reasons", which gave her horrible burns.
Black and Gray Morality: In the novel, Hilly Holbrook is an out-and-out sociopath, racist, and adamant segregationist; her insistence that black domestics be compelled by law to use separate bathrooms from their white employers is portrayed as extreme even by the standards of Mississippi in the early 60's. Skeeter, however, while certainly a much better person, is still a segregationist: she acknowledges in her narration that she finds the thought of a romance between a white woman and a black man to be "horrific, disastrous", and at no time in the novel does she ever advocate the abolition of Jim Crow and the end of segregation. She clearly is troubled by the way blacks are being treated by whites in Mississippi in the 60's, especially black maids working in white households and raising white children, and she clearly loved Constantine and comes to love Aibileen and Minny, but she never advocates integration.
Brick Joke: When Minny helps Celia improve her cooking (as they're trying to keep Minny a secret from her husband), Celia suggest burning it to keep him from raising suspicion. Minny don't burn chicken. Later on she burns her chicken after receiving a 46 dollar check (about $350 in today's money) for the book.
Also added to this; Celia's husband later admits that he knew about the whole charade all along... because the first night, the dinner was too good.
Deep South: Jackson, Mississippi in the early '60s. Doesn't get much deeper than that. The most extreme example is Celia Foote, who according to Minny sounds like she's from so deep in the country that "she's got corn growing between her toes". It turns out she's from Sugar Ditch — "where the electric current don't run".
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given that it's set in Mississippi in the early 1960s, lots. In particular, at one point Hilly — who has up to that point casually expressed lots of views that many modern viewers would find intolerably racist — expresses concern over Skeeter's actions because "there are some real racists around here."
Also, in the book at least, Skeeter herself acknowledges that the thought that Stuart's previous girlfriend might have cheated on him with a black man horrifies even her, and is relieved when she is reassured that it was a white man; the way Skeeter phrases it seems to suggest that she is trying to reassure the reader that she is not too radical.
Demoted to Extra: A Real-life example. Despite the marketing of the film being built around Emma Stone, Davis and Spencer got all the recognition for the movie, leaving Stone in the dust
What Hilly did to her mother after she laughs at her when Hilly has her I Ate What? moment is also pretty disproportionate. Hilly's mom is put into a nursing home, and knowing her she's not too happy with that.
Hilly firing Minny because she thinks she used the indoor toilet.
Pretty much everything Hilly does. Trying to make sure Minny has to come work for her by telling everyone in town that she's a thief, sending Yule May to prison for four years because she's friends with the judge's wife and petty thievery only gets six months (Yule May stole a near-worthless heirloom to help pay her boy's way to college), then also makes Minny's husband's boss fire him, which nearly causes him to kill her.
Extreme Doormat: Elizabeth, who's constantly bossed around by Hilly, cowed by her husband, and is practically a chew toy to her domineering and extravagant mother. With such a pushover personality, it's no wonder she never realizes Aibileen dedicates some pages in the book to her very own home life.
First Girl Wins: This has a Gender Flipped subversion. It seems like Stuart, the first man that Skeeter dates, is going to end up being her love interest from then on in the film, but he leaves her after she tells him about the book.
Foreshadowing: When Miss Celia is first introduced in the book, she's described as being similar to Marilyn Monroe. Now consider what problem she had concerning trying to have a baby...
Genki Girl: Celia Foote, oh so much. She is constantly running around, speaking fast, and generally is very energetic and happy about everything. However, she's not as flat a character as she seems.
Girl Posse: Skeeter and Elizabeth are this for Hilly, at least at the beginning, although Skeeter rebels over the course of the story.
Good People Have Good Sex: Implied when Johnny Foote compares being married to Celia after having dated Hilly for a long time as being like moving from Antarctica to Hawaii; he's not just referring to how much warmer Celia's personality is.
Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Roger Ebert pointed in his review out that only the white characters smoked, and that there were no black smokers. On the other hand, one of the smokers is Skeeter herself and aside from a complaint from her boss it's not treated negatively.
Happily Married: Celia and Johnny. All Johnny wants from Celia is for her to be happy. He doesn't care that she can't cook, properly take care of their house or that she had multiple miscarriages trying to give him children. Their first scene together where Johnny sneaks behind Celia and pulls her in close establishes their relationship pretty well.
Hidden Depths: Lou Ann, a member of Hilly's Girl Posse is originally dismissed by Skeeter as nothing more then a kiss up to Hilly and is as silly, shallow, and vain as the rest. As the book progresses however, glimpses are given to show that she is in fact very different to what is first assumed.
How We Got Here: The film starts with Skeeter talking to Aibileen about what it was like to be a maid, and then it cuts back several days before that, explaining why Skeeter decided to write the book and how she got Aibileen to talk to her.
Lethal Chef: Celia, until Minny teaches her how to cook. Minny also counts, at least where Hilly is concerned...
Magical Negro: Deconstructed. The black characters all have varying shades of this, but they take great pains to show why they act this way and all the pain that comes with it. Aibeleen and Minny both aid the white characters in the same way as other examples of this trope, but they're treated like dirt and long to be free.
Market-Based Title: The title of the book and the movie in Scandinavian countries is "Niceville." That's no translation of the Scandinavian title, an English title was used.
Mistaken for Gay: Mrs. Phelan asks Skeeter if she's gay thinking that was the reason she wasn't already married or at least dating. Skeeter says no but later in the book she mentions how the gay cure drink her mother makes her to drink upsets the stomach and how when she starts to date Stuart her mother was delighted that she liked men.
Mood Whiplash: The hilarious scene of Hilly's lawn covered in toilets includes an adorable bit with Mae Mobley using one of them. Which her mother then uses as an excuse to beat her.
MRS Degree: Stuart Whitworth asks Skeeter, "Isn't that what all you girls from Ole Miss major in - professional husband hunting?"
Nice Guy: Johnny Foote from what little is seen of him.
Nouveau Riche: Played with; Celia, a 'white-trash' girl who married good, is clearly not on the same social level as most of the other women in the story, most of whom make sure to passive-aggressively let her know it, but is ultimately revealed to be a lot nicer.
Noodle Incident: Averted. It first appears that we will never get to know what exactly Minny did to Hilly after she was fired. We find out later, and it is not pretty.
Pet the Dog: In the book Aibileen watches Hilly playing with her children, and concedes that, bitch that she is, she's an excellent and loving mother.
Politically Correct History: Has received some criticism for this. The consensus seems to be that while it is a good movie, it's not really an accurate portrayal of the time period. It even gets some criticism for showing a politically correct present, because it makes it seem like racism is all better now, even though it never shows the present.
Except she isn't spoiled. Celia grew up as penniless "white trash" in Sugar Ditch, and only got money when she married Johnny.
If anything, Johnny is a male version.
Suspiciously Specific Sermon: A sermon saying that bravery is often just having the courage to do what's right inspires Aibileen to help Skeeter with her book.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Having enough of Hilly, Aibileen grabs hold of her and tells her to her face that she is a godless women who will never know peace or happiness. Hilly is clearly shaken as Aibileen leaves.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted. After a certain point in the movie, Mrs. Walters just sort of disappears, but later you find out what actually happened to her almost to the end. She got put into a nursing home.
White Man's Burden: The main criticism of the movie. Many critics see it as being about Skeeter finding these poor black maids and telling their story for them.
The movie's one saving grace is through Minny, who rather justifiably accuses Skeeter of trying to invoke this trope. Unfortunately, the fact that Minny is also consistently portrayed as combative and overbearing makes the message a lot less powerful than it would have been coming from someone like Aibileen.