SUBJECTS — U.S. 1945 – 1991, Diversity & Mississippi;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Self Esteem; Friendship; Courage;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.
AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 (for thematic material);
Drama; 2011, 146 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM’s guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
Adapted from Katheryn Stocket’s best-selling novel, The Help has two intertwining plot lines. One is the story of a young white woman who returns from college to her hometown in Mississippi in the 1960s to begin a writing career. She surreptitiously interviews black maids and writes their stories for a book to be published in New York while at the same trying to discover the reason for the sudden disappearance of the black maid who raised her and who she dearly loves. The second and more important plot line is that of the black maids who courageously reveal some of the harsh realities of racism by contributing their stories to the book.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
2011 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Spencer); 2011 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Gina Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Chastain), The film won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan; Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark; Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook; Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson; Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote; Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt; Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan; Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth; Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson; and Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
ELA classes: The Help is an excellent opportunity to study character development over the course of a narrative. The story also suggests a different angle from which to explore racism and classism, revealing how both distort personal relationships. The story makes clear the necessity of individual courage in fomenting change in a resistant culture.
U.S. history classes: The book or the movie are valuable additions to a list of works to be read or watched as homework to explore the genre of historical fiction. See TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
Students will engage in an analysis of character development in a popular story and will exercise their writing skills on a topic that interests them. They will become aware of how racism and classism distort human relationships and of the segregated society that existed in America as late as the 1960s.
Minor. The film does not show the full extent of oppression suffered by female domestic workers in the South. But then what film or story could do that?
Point out to your child both before and after the film that dramatic changes have occurred in the lives of women such as those depicted in the story because of the courage and hard work done by blacks and whites in the Civil Rights movement and by women furthering the feminist cause. Also, ask and help your child to answer the Discussion Question #1.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Introducing the Movie:
Before showing the movie, tell the class to watch for two things. First, how racism or classism distorts important personal relationships. Second, how characters develop and change over the course of the story.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. [Ask the following question first of one student and then another until no one in the class has any ideas left. Start with the less capable students and move on to more perceptive students.] Describe how racism or classism interfered with an important personal relationship in this story.
This occurred in almost every relationship. For example, between white children and the black women who raised them, between the maids and the women for whom they worked (including Skeeter and Constantine), between Skeeter and her mother, and between Skeeter and her boyfriend, Stuart. Note in the discussion that it must do something terrible to a child’s psyche to learn that his or her primary caregiver was an inferior person. For students who have only seen the movie, tell them that in the book Constantine’s father was a white man who used to visit her mother every Saturday. Constantine was his favorite daughter, and the most important thing he said to her, with tears in his eyes, was “I’m sorry.” (pp. 77 – 79) As sometimes happened, when Constantine had a child, the baby turned out white, although the father was a black man. But a black woman with a white child could not exist in the segregated South, so Constantine sent her daughter north to Chicago to live in an orphanage while Constantine stayed in Jackson and raised Skeeter. (pp. 100 & 101) This is just another example of how racism distorted personal relationships.
2. What role does class play in this film?
Celia Foote is from a family and an area with less class than the other white women in the movie. She is treated terribly by them: they won’t return her phone calls; they won’t allow her to work on the charity drives, etc. It isn’t just that Celia took Hilly Holbrook’s boyfriend, but that she did this and was the lower class that drove Hilly to hate her so much. There is also social climbing shown among the white women. This is a class-based activity.
3. Aibileen is the first of the maids to come forth with stories about her life as a housekeeper and a nanny. What personal characteristics enable her to risk such a bold move?
Aibileen has suffered terribly in her life, most dramatically from the unjust death of her only child. Respect for her son, who had wanted to be a writer, seems to drive her to reveal her truths. She also has no one depending on her, in contrast with Minnie, who has children still living at home. Aibileen seems to be aware that times are changing and her courage, dedication to friends, and sense of justice motivate her to come forward.
4. Males play minor roles in this film. Which male characters seem to contribute to the theme of female empowerment and what do they do that advances the women in their lives?
Johnny Foote, Celia’s husband, supports and loves her despite the class differences between them. Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend, unwittingly helps Skeeter move on with her life. He breaks up with her when he discovers her role in publishing the stories about the black housekeepers, thus freeing her to leave for New York for a writer’s life.
5. Skeeter’s mother experiences redemption in this film. What lies behind this powerful change and which scene shows the redemption?
Skeeter’s mother, Charlotte, who is dying of cancer, is one of the few white women to show remorse and assume a degree of responsibility for the treatment of blacks by their white employers. Skeeter’s broken heart, caused by the unexplained loss of Constantine, her own personal black nanny, seems to trigger remorse in the older woman and she then defends her daughter’s efforts on behalf of the maids in a scene with a highly rattled Hilly.
6. Various discussions and glimpses of news on television reveal the time period in which the story is set. What contribution is made to the progress in the story by these references to the ongoing Civil Rights Movement?
It can be asserted that the unrest and excitement caused by the promise of social change give the black women hope, courage and the ability to see past their narrow lives to a greater cause, thus enabling them to speak more freely. These clips also anchor the movie in its chronological and social context.
7. What differences do you see in the friendships shown among the employers and the friendships among the maids? Give examples.
Answers will vary. Be sure each response is backed up by reference to a scene or to dialogue. Some may suggest that the women who employ the maids are highly conscious of social status in their friendships and adhere closely to the set of unspoken rules that dominate their relationships. The maids, in contrast, are usually caring, open, and loyal to one another as individuals. 8. What does it do to a person’s self-respect if the culture around that person treats him or her with disrespect? Suggested Response: Most people will adopt the judgment of their society and have little self-respect. It is only exceptional people who will be able to develop strong self-respect while living in a culture that doesn’t respect them.
9. Hilly Holbrook wanted separate bathrooms from the maids. In the American South in the first half of the 20th century, whites espoused the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This was supposed to keep the races separate but treat them equally. Did it work in practice? Can it ever work in a society in which one race has all the power?
As a practical matter, budget considerations will almost always mean that the separate facilities for the less powerful race will be inferior to what is provided for the more powerful race. In addition, the fact that one race wanted to be separate from the other is a demonstration of disrespect that injures the self-image of members of the less powerful race.
1. Can you think of a situation in which you or anyone you know, made a radical change in their life from what they were expected to do by their family or their community?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
See Questions 8 & 9 above.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. This story is about the changes in the characters of five women. Write an essay in which you identify these five women and for each, in one paragraph, describe the way in which the woman changed over the course of the story.
2. Write an essay in which you describe how classism plays a role in the story. Cite support for every opinion with direct reference to a specific scene or to dialogue.
3. Research the role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement. Using PowerPoint or a similar program create a presentation [or write an essay] that introduces two specific women who had an impact on the Movement and recount the activities in which they were involved. Be sure to describe any obstacles they may have met because of gender bias or other social norms.
4. Write an expository essay on the condition of housekeepers, maids and nannies in society today. Be sure to investigate any factors that may surface, such as ethnicity, age, or gender. Look for information on wages earned by domestic workers. Consider the jobs associated with maids in hotels as well as in private households.
5. In a formal essay, determine whether or not The Help is a classic “chick flick.” Begin with a review of the genre itself in which you carefully define the term and establish the standards that would classify any film as a “chick flick.” Apply those standards to your review of The Help.
6. In a narrative project the characters Skeeter and Aibileen ten years into the future. Explain where their lives have taken them by writing a scene that would serve as an epilogue to the film. In it, show how the empowerment earned through the experiences in the story has played out. Write in present tense. Use description and dialogue. In your narrative describe action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.
Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.
Speaking and Listening:
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.
Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.
See websites linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine.