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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!, its album, or Help (2021).


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents
    • Elizabeth Leefolt to her daughter, Mae Mobley. She treats her more like a nuisance than her own daughter, and dreads ever having to deal with her. The only time she pays her any attention is to scold her or even slap her around.
    • From the little we saw, 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.
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    • 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.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The book showcases a wider variety of dynamics between the black maids and the white women they work for, with one maid speaking especially highly of her employer and describing the kindness and consideration the woman showed her during a family tragedy. In the film, Minny is the only one with a positive story about her employer.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The scene surrounding Constantine's firing goes a bit further in the book than just her daughter barging into a party being hosted after being turned away by Skeeter's mother Charlotte when she comes to visit her mother. Constantine's daughter shows up all the same to surprise her mother, but in this version, she's a mixed-race young woman who can pass for white, and mingles with the club members Charlotte is hosting a party for. Charlotte is outraged that a black woman would have the audacity to pull a stunt like this, not to mention horrified at the thought of how the other club members would react if they found out the girl was actually black, thus leading to Constantine's firing. Considering how this would have added to the running time and likely would have needed quite a bit of exposition to explain the POV thoughts of everyone involved, it was changed to just Rachel, who is not-mixed race in the movie and presents as black, dropping in to visit her mother and back-talking Charlotte when Charlotte tells her to go out and come in through the back instead, and Charlotte reluctantly firing Constantine after being bullied into it by the club president.
  • 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.
    • Charlotte sends her son to Chicago to go bring Constantine back home after reluctantly firing her in the film in an attempt to make things right. It doesn't work because she's already died from a broken heart. In the book, she makes no such gesture, making the firing seemed especially mean-spirited.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Minny's husband is a minor case. He's abusive to Minny in both the book and the movie, but the book also has scenes in which he's gentler and even showing a certain amount of protectiveness towards Minny and the children. In the film, his only appearances are when he's hitting Minny.
    • Hilly also loses her (very few) good traits in the film. In the book, it's noted that despite how nasty she can be, she is a very good mother who treats her child well, especially when compared to her friend Elizabeth. The movie doesn't devote any time to showing that side of her (or really showing her interacting with her son at all).
  • The Alcoholic: Minny initially believes Celia to be this because all she does is sit around while Minny works, and has a secret stash of empty bottles. She's actually pregnant but trying to avoid another miscarriage and drinks what she believes is "catch tonic" to help her pregnancy stick.
  • Alliterative Name: Hilly Holbrook.
  • Adapted Out: Lou Ann and her maid Louvenia are part of a minor but important subplot in the book. Both characters, as well as the plot points surrounding them, are cut from the film.
  • Alpha Bitch: Hilly Holbrook is this for the entire town of Jackson, Mississippi—president of the Junior League, she not only commands all her colleagues with an iron fist, but if she wants to ruin your life, she knows just where to go. Skeeter is part of her Girl Posse until she rebels.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Ain't you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain't you tired?"
  • Artistic License – Medicine: By the start of the film, when Celia begins hiring Minnie for her new job, she's downing a bottle of coca-cola all the while telling Minnie that she's pregnant at that moment. In reality, pregnant women should not consume caffeine as it could lead to pregnancy complications and/or possible miscarriage. Doubles as Foreshadowing.
  • 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 only 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.
    • Averted with Celia and Johnny. The other girls talk about them as if they are this (usually in the context that Celia is probably a horrible wife making Johnny's life miserable), but they're actually one of the few happy couples in the story.
  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: Skeeter's wish to publish her book is generally more about helping the maids' stories be heard and perhaps inspiring some change in the world. With some help from Minny and Aibileen, though, she also takes the opportunity to get back at Hilly. This includes getting strangers to drop of toilets on her front lawn and including the Terrible Awful in the book to send a message: "Everyone who reads this book knows what happened to you, they just don't know it's you, so keep quiet or sell yourself out."
  • 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, and so she wouldn't be able to retaliate for fear of exposing the truth.
  • Berserk Button
    • Minny can't contain her contempt when she thinks Celia is an alcoholic. Makes sense considering her father and husband are alcoholics.
    • Celia Foote is as sweet as sugar, so kind and bubbly that Minny doesn't know how to deal with her. When Minny threatens to tell her husband about her drinking, however, Celia snaps and yells at Minny to leave. Turns out the "alcohol" was actually a quack doctor's medicine that was supposed to help her stay pregnant, and Celia is using it because she's already had several miscarriages.
  • 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. She doesn't have an actual position of high power, but she's a known community figure and a wealthy white woman in Civil Rights-era Mississippi. She ostracizes Celia from the whole town, gets Yule May sent to jail for a ring Hilly didn't even care about, keeps Minny from finding work out of pure spite, and in general makes it clear how ready she is to ruin the lives of anyone who pisses her off. Her final act in the book is framing Aibileen for stealing her spoons, because if she can't throw her in jail for writing the book, she'll throw her in jail for being a thief.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing
    • Hilly. She keeps up a facade of being a kind, professional president of the League, and orchestrates the Children's Charity Ball. She's actually a manipulative liar willing to ruin anyone who wrongs her even slightly.
    • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The book is published and sees great success. Afterwards, Stuart shows his true colors and breaks up with Skeeter because he disagrees with her views on race and injustice. Skeeter is heartbroken and no longer has any friends to speak of (due to Hilly's manipulations), but her mother "decides" not to die, so Skeeter moves to New York to pursue a wonderful job opportunity. Minny leaves her abusive husband Leroy for good, and she and her children are all invited to stay with the Footes in a safe, happy house. Celia is still ostracized in Jackson, but realizes that Hilly isn't worth all her trouble, and stays Happily Married to Johnny instead of running away. Hilly gets a lot of comeuppance, but realizes based on the small detail of the L-shaped crack in Elizabeth's table that Aibileen is one of the maids in the book; knowing that she can't let anyone know about the pie she ate, she decides to frame Aibileen for theft instead, and while it's implied that nothing will come of the theft charge criminally (due to Hilly knowing Aibileen has something over her), Aibileen is fired from the Leefolt household and has to leave Mae Mobley, who she's been caring for like her own child for years. However, Aibileen leaves the Leefolt house more invigorated than she's felt for years, happy that she's finally said what she's needed to say and feeling that she's inspired some change.
  • 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: The L shaped crack in Elizabeth's table. Such a tiny detail, but it lets Hilly know that Aibileen was one of the maids in the book.
  • Cool Old Lady
    • Mrs. Phelan, as uptight and materialistic as she is, makes it clear that her daughter is her priority. So, when Hilly shows up at their house to antagonize her daughter, Mrs. Phelan tears her a new one and throws her out. Skeeter is rightfully amazed.
    • Hilly's own mother counts as well. She's frail and doesn't eat much, but she's significantly kinder than her daughter and has a good sense of humor. After Hilly throws her in a nursing home just for laughing at what Minny did, her mother buys her one of the chocolate pies just to spite her.
  • Cure Your Gays: Skeeter's mom believes in this trope; she asks Skeeter if she's a lesbian. Skeeter is not amused at all.
  • Cruel Mercy: While she manages to get Aibleen fired as Elizabeth's maid in retaliation for her part in Skeeter's book that condemns racism and doesn't seem to face any visible grand scale repercussions herself, Hilly is reduced to tears by Aibleen's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Break the Haughty on the latter's way out, while Skeeter's book would eventually and gradually disintegrate Hilly's reputation in the passage of time.
  • 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.
    • Mrs. Phelan becomes a much more sympathetic character over the plot. Even still, she worriedly asks if Skeeter has been having "unnatural thoughts" toward other women, which is dismissed as her simply being a worrywart.
  • Defector from Decadence: Skeeter is a young, wealthy white woman surrounded by friends and family who support the current prejudiced system in Mississippi. She's been silently disagreeing for a while now, but when she gets the idea to publish a book about the stories of black maids in her head, she decides to go for it, and becomes more vocal about how she really feels. Much of this is fueled by her tender relationship with her former maid Constantine, whose disappearance (and everyone's refusal to talk about it) angers her greatly.
  • Disproportionate Retribution
    • In the film, Hilly fires Minny because she thinks she used the indoor toilet, and then, after Minny gets her revenge, putting her mother into a nursing home for laughing at her I Ate WHAT?! moment.note 
      • Pretty much everything Hilly does. Sending Yule May to prison for four years because she's friends with the judge's wife, even though petty thievery should only get six months (Yule May stole a near-worthless heirloom to help pay her children's way to college), putting Minny out of a job by ensuring that no one else will hire her (except ultimately Celia, who isn't subject to Hilly's influence), and making 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 mentions that she would have been sent for electro-shock or a lobotomy if Louvenia hadn't helped pull her out of her depression. Elizabeth Leefolt's husband is very emotionally and verbally abusive to her, putting her down a lot.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In Minny's case, she 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. Minny initially takes the job out of desperation, but comes to realize that Celia is also one of the most genuinely nice and unprejudiced people around, and in the end, she has a job set for life, working for two kind people that consider her not merely a friend, but an equal.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Highlighted in Aibileen's narrative. The bathroom the Leefolts are making for her (to keep her from their own bathroom) is built by a pair of black men, one of which seems far too old to do what he's doing. They share an incredibly awkward scene in which one of them has to ask Aibileen where he can make water, and Aibileen has to tell him to go in the backyard. Aibileen's own son Treelore was an intelligent boy who valued writing more than anything, but had to work a laborious job that was always too much for him. Said job actually got him killed.
  • 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.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Minny only accepts Celia's sketchy job invitation to travel far out of her way every day to clean Celia's husband's enormous mansion out in the middle of nowhere and teach Celia how to cook while her husband is away (and Celia stresses that Minny can't let her husband know she's there, leading Minny to fear that he's abusive or some kind of reclusive murderer), because she's just been fired by Hilly, who had Minny blacklisted, so she doesn't have any other options. It ends up working out pretty well for her in the end, though.
  • Gold Digger: Subverted. As a girl from the Wrong Side of the Tracks marrying a wealthy man, Celia is assumed by many to be this, but it turns out she doesn't care about the money and really did marry Johnny for love.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: In the book, due to Deliberate Values Dissonance Skeeter keeps mentally reassuring the reader that while she wants to expose white women's excessive cruelty to their black employees (to further her own writing career) she's not too extreme about it; she's not for integration, black enfranchisement, and she's horrified by the mere thought of interracial relationships. But considering abuse toward black employees is partly enabled by Jim Crow laws, her mentality can be summed up as, "Legal oppression of black people isn't that bad as long as white employers aren't too mean about it."
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Celia is overwhelmingly sweet and friendly, and can't seem to comprehend why people don't like her; Minny essentially has to sit down and explain the malicious gossip that's spread up about her, and once she does so, Celia is convinced she can just explain it away. It takes a while to settle in that many of the other women in the town are as superficial and mean-spirited as they are, and the realization seems to leave her rather shell-shocked.
  • 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.
  • 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 than her.
    • Though she'll never admit it, Hilly gives off signs that she's jealous of Celia for marrying Johnny, who Hilly had previously dated.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Celia Foote keeps her hair dyed various shades of gold and yellow, and she's hands-down the kindest character in the movie.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • History Repeats: Some time ago, Mrs. Phelan fired Constantine in order to not look bad in front of the Daughters of America, despite knowing her maid's been a mother figure to her daughter Skeeter. In the present, Hilly pressures Elizabeth to fire Aibileen under false pretenses of theft, despite how much it will break poor Mobley Mae's heart to lose her surrogate mother.
  • 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 horrified reaction to finding out the "ingredients" of Minny's pie.
  • Innocently Insensitive: During her interview, Minny asking Celia when she and her husband were planning on having kids. She doesn't know that Celia has had three previous miscarriages and would also lose the one she was pregnant with later on.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Celia is this to Johnny because he's from a rich, well-to-do family while she's "white trash" from Sugar Ditch and doesn't know how to cook, clean, and can't bear him children.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Skeeter's book amounts to this, revealing many white ladies' mistreatment of their black domestic help.
  • It's All About Me: Hilly and her Girl Posse, naturally.
    • Skeeter is a less obvious version of this. While interviewing dozens of black women for her book, she is bored hearing the same old story about low pay, long hours, horrific working conditions, struggling to feed their families (even though seeing their faces and learning their names should, in theory, evoke empathy) but becomes very interested in the parts where the black women bonding with white children, like her and Constantine. She's also only writing the book to advance her own writing career. She also remembers Constantine very fondly, but only as her own friend and confidant. She's pretty indifferent about every part of Constantine's life that didn't revolve around her.
  • Jealous Parent: Elizabeth Leefolt is the Selfish type, as after slapping around her daughter, she resentfully looks on with annoynace and contempt at Aibileen comforting her child.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Stuart. His first meeting with Skeeter goes horribly, but he comes back to apologize, explaining that he's still heartbroken from his ex-girlfriend cheating on him. Afterwards, he and Skeeter have a genuinely loving relationship, and he supports her writing job. However, once the book is actually published, it becomes evident that he's just as prejudiced as most people in the era. He breaks up with Skeeter and calls her "selfish" for the change she wants.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Hilly, in the form of the "Terrible Awful" that Minny condemns her to as a direct punishment for telling all the white Girl Posse type women in Jackson that Minny was a thief, forcing Minny to crawl back to her. While Yule May will be released from prison after her four-year sentence Hilly caused, Ailbleen notes at the end Hilly is damned to a life sentence of convincing everyone in the world that Chapter 12 wasn't her.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Rich Bitch Hilly and her Girl Posse pop out kids right and left, while the kind, sweet, and warm Celia can't have children.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The very last scene is a shot of Aibeleen taking a long walk as the credits roll.
  • Lethal Chef: Celia, until Minny teaches her how to cook. Minny is horrified to see how inept she is in the kitchen; the only thing she can make is corn pone. When Johnny finally meets Minny, he tells her that he knew all along that she must have had help because the cooking went from horrible to wonderful over one night.
    Johnny: You could have at least put some corn pone on the table.
    Minny: No, I couldn't let you eat anymore cone pone, Mister Johnny...
  • 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.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, Skeeter considers her mother to have crossed when she fired Constantine after years of loyal service just because Constantine's daughter, a white-passing young woman, dared to attend one of her white parties and then reveal her true ethnicity, embarrassing Mrs. Phelan.
  • 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?"
  • Must Have Caffeine: Celia is constantly drinking from Coca-Cola bottles. Though she really shouldn't have indulged in so much caffeine during her pregnancy.
  • Nice Guy: Johnny Foote from what little is seen of him. His love for Celia is genuine and true; he doesn't care that she can't cook or clean, he just wants her to be happy. He begs her not to leave him when he finds out she's planning on running away. He's also very kind to Minny and invites her to live with them.
  • 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 she's also a lot kinder and generally a better person than nearly all of them.
  • 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.
  • Oblivious to Their Own Description: Skeeter's book doesn't lead to the widespread change in how Southern white women treat their black maids as she hoped, because most of them don't even recognize their own behavior in the book. She notes how Hilly, Elizabeth and her posse gasp over how horribly a woman can treat her own daughter, oblivious that the book describes exactly how Elizabeth treats Mae Mobley.
  • 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: A historical film taking place in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, with an All-Star Cast to boot.
  • Odd Friendship: Though she's technically Celia's employee, Celia treats Minny as a friend rather than a servant (for example, joining Minny in the kitchen for lunch rather than having them eat separately). Minny is initially put off by this, but ultimately comes to care for Celia in return.
  • Parental Substitute: a recurring element in the film is how the titular “Help” are better parents to their bosses children than the bosses who are Abusive Parents or neglectful parents. It’s the main motivation for Skeeter.
  • 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.
    • While setting up the date between Skeeter and Stuart, Hilly tells Skeeter, "I'm not gonna let you miss out on this because your mother convinced you you're not good enough for somebody like him." It's unclear if this is a real problem or if Hilly is misreading the situation, but either way, she's adamant that Skeeter is worthy, and at least part of her reason for setting the couple up is that she wants Skeeter to be happy (albeit by her own definition of happiness, but she genuinely means well).
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Minny believes Celia to be The Alcoholic because she's so lazy, secretive, and has a secret stash of empty bottles. She even blows up at Celia and leaves. When Minny decides to return and apologize, she finds Celia hemorrhaging from a violent miscarriage and narrowly saves her life. Afterwards, Celia explains that she's had several miscarriages, hired Minny to do housework partly to avoid any kind of strenuous activity to try to retain her pregnancy, and the bottles were full of what she thought was "catch tonic." Minny calls her out on it, saying all this trouble could have been avoided if Celia told her from the beginning.
  • 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 and took place across multiple points in time, 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 and could be shown in a single scene.
    • Also, Minny telling her daughter the "rules" of being a maid on said daughter's first day of work (in order to set up Minny's interaction with Celia). In the book, this is accomplished by Minny remembering her own mother telling her those things, but this is another scene that would be difficult to show on film.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Hilly's final act in the book is framing Aibileen for stealing her spoons, because if she can't throw her in jail for writing the book, she'll throw her in jail for being a thief. She backs off when Aibileen points out that she still knows a secret that Hilly doesn't want getting out.
  • Product Placement: Coca-Cola and Crisco.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Minny: "Eat. my. shit."
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Hilly's final act of petty vindictiveness is firing Aibileen and trying to frame her for stealing silverware, since if Hilly can't have her arrested for helping Skeeter write the book, then she'll have her arrested for being a thief. For Aibileen, this is the last straw; she walks right up to Hilly, dresses her down over how she has to bully everyone around her just to feel good about herself, and tells her to her face that she's a godless woman who will never be happy. All in a Tranquil Fury that's enough to reduce Hilly to tears.
    Aibileen: Ain't you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain't you tired?
  • 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 Deliberate Values Dissonance regarding her "not too radical" view of Civil Rights, Skeeter is sometimes portrayed as a brave and progressive Civil Rights hero 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: Celia fears that Johnny will catch on to the secret if the food is too good at dinner, so she asks Minny if they should burn the chicken a little. Minny doesn't burn 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: Beehive hair-do's, Coca-Cola in glass bottles, prime-color television...Unfortunately, the film takes place in Mississippi, right when the Civil Rights movement was beginning.
  • 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.
    • Minny also gives one when she reveals what the "Terrible Awful" was: In retaliation for Hilly firing her, she baked her own feces into a chocolate pie and tricked Hilly into eating two slices before telling her what was in it. Hilly's reaction upon finding out, along with her mother's, is the stuff of legends.
  • 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.
    • Lou Ann, who doesn't appear in the film, is also this in the book; her maid describes how Lou Ann not only generally treats her decently, but personally supported her through a family tragedy.
  • 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.
  • Vetinari Job Security: Played with for Minny. Abileen notes that the start of the novel that Minny has a mouth, and she's the only black woman who can get away with it because her cooking is so amazing that most white employers tolerate it... for a time. However, they all (except Celia) let her go eventually. She then gets a fully straight case with Johnny and Celia, who promise that she has a job for life with them due to how much she helped Celia.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Hilly is president of the Junior League and orchestrates the Children's Benefit Ball. As such, she's held in high esteem in the community, which makes her all the more dangerous.
  • 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: It's Skeeter, a wealthy young white woman, who uses her job and position to tell the stories of the poor black maids. Minny rather justifiably accuses Skeeter of trying to invoke this trope. 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. Of course, those same maids all congratulate her at the end...
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Eat My...

You didn't eat just one, you had TWO slices!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

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Main / IAteWhat

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