‘The Help’ strikes a chord

At some point while we were watching “The Help,” my wife nudged me and pointed out a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi, in the background in one scene of the movie, where’s she eaten. Her old high-school got name-checked, and so did a familiar grocery store chain, Jitney Jungle.

Yes, you might say the movie — and the book on which it’s based — is familiar territory for her. Literally.

And those who know my family know that its topic — relations between the races in the broadest terms — is one that’s dear to us.

I haven’t read the book, by Kathryn Stockett, but my wife liked it pretty well, although she was boggled by the idea that its events — the struggle of black maids in pre-civil-rights-era Mississippi — took place only a few years before she grew up there.

The movie — which showcases some wonderful actresses, from Viola Davis to Octavia Spencer to Emma Stone to Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays a reprehensible and pathetic racist — is good and manages to avoid the pitfalls of movies like “Mississippi Burning,” which relegated its black characters to the background in favor of the adventures of heroic white FBI agents.

There’s some comfort in watching the movie and not only feeling smug about the foolishness of racism but thinking about how much attitudes have changed. Even in Mississippi.

As someone with an abiding interest in tolerance, I think I was struck most by sympathy for the people who suffered, many mightily, through the depths of segregation and racism in the south as well as awe at how different our lives might have been if attitudes hadn’t changed.

“The Help” is a moment, frozen in time. Thankfully, that time has passed.


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