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Film / The Help

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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 (Emma Stone), who interviews them to try getting 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 (Viola Davis) and two Actress in a Supporting Role (Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer — the latter won).

Not to be confused with Help!, or its album.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Elizabeth Leefolt to her daughter, Mae Mobley. She's not even directly abusive, more just inattentive and incompetent, which is perhaps even worse.
    • From the little we seen of her it seems Elizabeth's own mother was also abusive.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mrs. Walters can't help but laugh when she realizes the "terrible awful" that Minny did to Hilly.
  • 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.
    • Even 3-year-old Mae Mobley got this treatment. The novel describes her as being a fairly unattractive child, chubby with thin hair and a bald spot. Movie Mae Mobley is a cute kid with barely more than the usual amount of baby fat. This actually works for the story since it makes her mother's disappointment over her child's weight all the more superficial and wrong.
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  • Adaptational Heroism: See Black and Gray Morality below. In the book, Skeeter is a segregationist who finds the thought of an interracial romance "horrific, disastrous"; in the movie, that moral ambiguity is gone.
  • Alliterative Name: Hilly Holbrook.
  • 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.
  • Award-Bait Song: "The Living Proof".
  • Awful Wedded Life: All over the place.
    • Minny has to deal with an abusive husband that avoids hitting her when she is pregnant.
    • Elizabeth Leefolt is bullied by her husband.
    • Hilly's husband clearly resents his wife and doesn't find her as sexy as Celia (clearly part of her envy) and she carries a torch for ex-boyfriend Johnny Foote (married to Celia).
    • At the Gala in the book, the men who check out Celia qualify. They think about first loves, what ifs, about how awful their wives are, and are annoyed by their prudish Alpha Bitch or Beta Bitch wives.
  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Skeeter, Aibleen, and Minny to Hilly. And it is gloriously satisfying.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Minny can't contain her contempt when she thinks Celia is an alcoholic. Makes sense considering her father and husband are alcoholics.
  • Beta Bitch: Elizabeth is Hilly's. There's little she does without Hilly's orders or example to follow. She went so far as to have her daughter just because Hilly had a kid, and both Mae Mobley and Elizabeth herself suffer from just how ill-equipped to be a parent the latter is.
  • Big Bad: Hilly, as she is the main antagonist of the book and the film.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Hilly.
    • 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, fascist (she tries to destroy/manipulate Skeeter over disagreeing with the Governor and having notes of segregationist laws and says you cannot disagree with the Governor), 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.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Deconstructed when Aibleen brings up the heartlessness of such a mindset, given the majority treat injustice towards the minority (namely her son's senseless hit-and-run) as a common happening.
    Aibleen: (chokingly) Come the anniversary of his death, I can't breathe. But to y'all, it's just another day of Bridge.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hilly being so fastidious about bathrooms...
    • The L shaped crack in Elizabeth's table
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Phelan definitely counts when she calls Hilly out on being a total jerk.
    • Hilly's own mother counts as well.
  • Cure Your Gays: Skeeter's mom believes in this trope.
  • 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.
    • In addition to the obvious racial issues, there's another example that's Played for Laughs: Mrs. Phelan is scandalized by the downright tackiness of air conditioner.
  • Defector from Decadence: Skeeter.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: What Hilly did to her mother after she laughs at her when Hilly has her I Ate WHAT?! moment is 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.
  • Domestic Abuse: Leroy is abusive to Minny. She leaves him by the end.
    • To a lesser extent, Louvenia's boss is emotionally abused by her husband for being depressed and suicidal and she is being sent for electro-shock or a lobotomy by the end of the book. Elizabeth Leefolt's husband is very emotionally and verbally abusive to her, putting her down a lot.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Minny suffers the brunt of Hilly's cruelty, having worked for her mother, and has a drunken brute for a husband. Her distaste for white people isn't helped when she's hired by Celia Foote, who seems to be a vapid Dumb Blonde who wants to use Minny's cooking to impress her husband. Fortunately, Minny doesn't let her bitterness stop her from treating Celia with genuine care, and in the end, she gets a job offer for a lifetime of working for two kind people that consider her not merely a friend, but an equal.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Deconstructed.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even Hilly seems to regard the KKK negatively.
  • 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.
  • Fan Fiction: An In-Universe example. Skeeter writes her own episodes of Dr. Kildare for fun.
  • 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.
  • Former Friend of Alpha Bitch: This trope comes into play after Skeeter is cast out of Hilly's social circle.
  • 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.
    • Averted in the book, as it is mentioned in the book that Aibileen smokes. Also, although Charlotte smokes in the movie, in the novel it's mentioned that she quit smoking after she got her cancer diagnosis.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: From what we see when Elizabeth Leefolt overlooks Aibileen comforting her daughter after slapping her in Hilly's defense, Elizabeth appeared to be jealous of Aibileen's and Mae Mobley's bonding, not just out of racism under Hilly's wing, but also how Aibileen is a better mother-figure towards Mae Mobley then her.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Celia
  • 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.
    • Skeeter's parents apply to a lesser extent, they are clearly close to one another and enjoy Ole Miss football.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In-Universe. A book example: "No wonder the fool doesn't have any kids."
  • 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.
  • Humiliation Conga: Nobody will let Hilly forget about the pie. Not even her own mother.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Hilly's reaction to finding out the "ingredients" of Minny's pie.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Skeeter's book amounts to this, revealing many white ladies' mistreatment of their black domestic help.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Stuart.
  • Lady Drunk: Subverted. Celia buys a lot of whisky bottles and drinks them when she doesn't know Minny is watching, causing Minny to assume she is this. The bottles are actually full of a Choctaw remedy supposed to help against Celia's inability to carry to term.
  • Lethal Chef: Celia, until Minny teaches her how to cook. Minny also counts, at least where Hilly is concerned...
  • Lighter and Softer: Most of the characters are portrayed more sympathetically than their book counterparts, particularly How Skeeter's mother fired Constantine.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Celia means heavenly. Very fitting for the woman who is one of the sweetest characters in the story.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Unable to comprehend why her daughter is still single, fearing she might be considered an Old Maid, Mrs. Phelan awkwardly tries to ask Skeeter if she prefers girls. Skeeter denies it, but later on in the book mentions how the 'cure' her mother makes her drink upsets the stomach. When she begins to date Stuart, her mother is delighted that it apparently worked.
  • 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.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: In the book, Minny notes how racist white men will usually come at a black person with a pipe or a gun, beat them up or kill them, then leave it at that. However, racist white ladies will make sure your entire life and the lives of your entire family are utterly destroyed. Through the right whispers to the right people they get you and your husband hired, blacklisted, inescapably unemployed, evicted from your home, get the relatives you're staying with unemployed and blacklisted too, force your family to resort to crime, make sure they get caught and given the maximum sentence in prison, and so on and so forth.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Skeeter has just finished college and comes home with dreams of becoming a writer.
  • 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.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Skeeter's mother accuses her memories of Constantine being this. She means that Skeeter overlooked Constantine's bad qualities (like having a child out of wedlock), but the reader can also see that Skeeter idealized Constantine as a wise and perfect second mother to herself and doesn't seem to realize that Constantine had a life and family outside of her (which Skeeter never shows any interest in).
  • 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.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In the movie, at the charity event, Hilly and Celia have this. Slightly drunk, Celia is just trying to congratulate Hilly for winning that chocolate pie at the auction. Hilly, believing Celia knows about the "Terrible Awful" and is mocking her, reacts viciously.
  • Oscar Bait
  • 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.
  • Product Placement: Coca-Cola and Crisco.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Minny: "Eat. my. shit."
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The incident that leads to Constantine being fired, whatever the changes to the characters in the process, is also this. The book version required a significant amount of exposition, which likely wouldn't have translated very well onscreen. The movie substituted a scene that kept a similar dynamic, but was much easier to set up.
  • Rich Bitch: Hilly Holbrook. She's bad from about the very second we meet her, as she's convinced that Minny is trying to steal everything she owns.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: Even with some Deliberate Values Dissonance regarding her "not too radical" view of Civil Rights, Skeeter is sometimes portrayed as a brave and progressive hero of Civil Rights for writing a book that exposes rich white ladies' treatment of their black domestic help, but considering how during this time period a number of whites were actively marching and protesting beside black Civil Rights protesters, and actively pushing for integration and the abolishment of Jim Crow laws that keep blacks down, her single book passive-aggressively showing a sobering mirror to some white ladies' treatment of their black servants isn't really that rebellious.
  • Serious Business: Minny and her chicken
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Skeeter, especially in the book where she grows her hair out and starts wearing shorter skirts and Pucci prints, not enough to make her be considered "pretty" but it's considered an improvement.
  • The '60s
  • 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.
  • The Reveal: Minny gets two regarding Celia. The first is her husband is really nice and knows Minny is working for them, but just humors Celia by pretending he doesn't know. The second is the seemingly lazy and alcoholic Celia is actually pregnant and drinking what she thinks is catch tonic to keep from getting another miscarriage.
  • The Unfavorite: Skeeter seems to be this to her overbearing mother, Charlotte, who seems to be prouder of her son and especially her daughter-in-law. Charlotte changes her attitude after telling Skeeter the truth about Constantine, and later expresses great pride in her daughter's courage.
  • Title Drop:
    • At the beginning of the film, a woman writes down the words The Help on a note pad, the name of the book that is also the title of the movie. It also serves as the film's title card.
    • Later at a party, Hill assembles the maids and introduces them to her guests as "the help".
  • Token Good Teammate: Celia seems to be the only white person (aside from Skeeter) that treats the black ladies like real people.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: Skeeter's relationship with Stuart is seen as this by some readers and critics of the book. It's completely disconnected from the black characters, the Civil Rights efforts, and Skeeter's secret book, his stance on Civil Rights is never made clear nor is Skeeter ever really concerned to find out, and an awful lot of pages are dedicated to this relationship that seems to go nowhere until he finally finds out about the book and promptly dumps Skeeter for it.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Used by Minny when speaking of what she did to Hilly, naming the event the 'Terrible Awful'.
  • Uptown Girl: Celia and Johnney Foote. She is from Sugar Ditch, an incredibly poor white area and is described as "white trash", he is far wealthier.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Hilly.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Hilly completely freaks out when she reads her own chapter in Skeeter's book. After this scene, things just go downhill for her.
  • 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.
    • In the novel, Skeeter's narration explicitly says, "Because I'm white, I feel it's my duty to help them." There are multiple maids in addition to Minny who call her out on this attitude, however.
  • Work Off the Debt: A variant. Yule May tells Hilly she will work for free if Hilly will spot her the $75 her family needs to send both their sons to college. Hilly naturally refuses, telling Yule May that God does not approve of giving charity to those who are well and able. Yule May has to resort to theft and gets arrested; she's sentenced to an unfairly long jail term.


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