It was an unusual Friday evening –
I was alone at home accompanied by Bean Bean, my dog. By chance, I saw a movie
on television, The Help, a film
adaptation of a 2009 novel of the same name by American author Kathryn
Stockett. At the 84th Academy Awards in 2012, Octavia Spencer won the Academy
Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Minny Jackson in this film.
The story is about
African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi,
during the early 1960s. Though long ago in 1863, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th
President of the United States, had already declared the emancipation of
slavery and proclaimed that everybody including the black was free and equal,
racial equality did not really exist. The Help
is about three women: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Aibileen Clark is a
50-year-old black maid spending her life raising white children. Her best
friend Minny Jackson, an outspoken black maid who has worked for Mrs. Walters
for so long that they are very comfortable with each other. Skeeter Phelan is
an liberal young white woman returning to the family home after graduating from
the University of Mississippi. She wants to pursue a writing career. She gets a
job with the local paper as a "homemaker hints" columnist.
Increasingly, Skeeter becomes uncomfortable with the attitude of the whites
towards their "help" such as believing that "black people carry
different diseases to white people".
Skeeter has the idea of writing
about the relationships between whites and their black help. The maids are very
reluctant to cooperate, afraid of retribution from their employers, but
Aibileen agrees. Eventually Minny cooperates. The other maids approached are
not interested. Skeeter submits the draft book to a New York City editor and
the book goes to print. It is a big success.
The film is witty, heart-warming
and inspiring. Here in Hong Kong, we have the Filipina helping us at home. Many
of them have left their children to the care of their family while they raise
our children. They are selfless saving every dollar to send back home whether
it is for their parents, siblings or children. Maria, our helper since 2009, is
now my mother’s best companion. They understand each other. My mother manages
to speak a few words of English and Maria has already mastered quite a profuse Cantonese
word bank. When Maria is away on leave, my mother counts the days she will be
back. She urges Maria to see a doctor for the slightest coughs. Maria secretly
tells me how my mom argues with the taxi-driver for detouring and
over-charging. I have taken Maria as a member of our family. These helpers are
closer to us than family members we meet once or twice in a year! They cook for
us! We live under the same roof! How can we not love them?