Sam Strange Remembers: THE HELP

Film is such a powerful medium that Sam Strange was able to solve 1960s southern racial inequality by making a film about it in 2011.

You may not know this, but I'm actually brothers with Steve Martin, which means I too was born a poor black child. So I know just how awful things used to be for black people, especially in the south. Actually, the south is bad for everyone. It's just that most of the people there like it that way.

Where I grew up, all black people were women, and all black women were maids. As employees they were overworked and underpaid. Their treatment from employers constantly belittled their worth as human beings. Luckily, a white lesbian wrote a book about them that finished the Civil Rights work started by Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. Now all those black maids work at Walmart.

It wasn't easy for her though. She had to find black maids brave enough to anonymously share their experiences, but also with experiences sexy or horrid enough to be worth printing. White people weren't going to read the book if it was just a bunch of complaining. Some trashy drama was needed as well.

The first maid she finds is Miss Sad Face, who is currently in the middle of raising her 50th white child. One paradox The Help explores is how generations of children could be raised by loving black women yet still turn into hateful white parents. Through Miss Sad Face, we get a clue how that happened.

See, Miss Sad Face has this mantra she teaches children to say whenever they feel insecure: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Having this hammered into your head as a baby prepares you for a world far different than the one most people encounter. If you already think you're important, then you no longer strive for importance, and therefore you fail to become important. If you inappropriately use "is" instead of "are" when saying basic three-letter sentences, you're also not very smart. Once the world convinces you the maid was wrong about these two things, you get angry at her and everyone who looks like her and stop being kind. And thus, the third and final compliment goes out the window. You are a mean, unimportant idiot, and you need a black lady to raise your child as a result.

Miss Sad Face doesn't have many interesting stories to tell. Racist white negligence lead to the death of her son, but that story gets edited from the book because it fails to fall under the purview of her maid work. Other than that, all she can come up with is how an employer didn't want her using their white bathroom and had one built just for her in the garage. It doesn't have a sink, the toilet paper hangs off a nail, and the magazines are all a month old.

The white lesbian writing the book isn't really interested in Miss Sad Face's stories anyway. She just knows that if she gets Miss Sad Face involved, there's a greater chance she'll get Miss Baby Face, the biggest firebrand in the south.

Miss Baby Face is a grown woman whose face did not age. While some ladies might think that sounds nice, Miss Baby Face proves that infancy is actually a very bad look on adults.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but Miss Baby Face also has a baby's capacity for dealing with other people's bullshit, which makes her a model case for the white lesbian's book. After a lot of resistance, she decides to join the project and does not disappoint. In fact, one of her stories is solely responsible for the popularity of this film.

See, Miss Baby Face used to work for a horrible woman named Hilly who fired Miss Baby Face for using her bathroom during a tornado instead of going to the designated one outside. This Hilly was actually the area's biggest fighter for color-coded bathrooms in private homes and even pushed legislation making shared bathrooms illegal in the state of Missallabbamma. Since Hilly was so afraid of black people's pee and poo, Miss Baby Face later offered an apology by baking her a pie filled with her own feces. Hilly not only devoured the pie, but washed it down with a glass of pee lemonade and later served Miss Baby Face's Vomit n' Onion dip at her "We Hate Black People" party.

It's a funny story. But it also gains emotional weight when Miss Baby Face reveals that Hilly got sick from the pie and died. In retaliation, her husband and his buddies raped Miss Baby Face and hung her from a tree. Now she's a ghost maid, which means she has to work for free.

Because Miss Baby Face is so popular, her involvement inspires hundreds of other maids to anonymously come forward with stories of funny stuff they fed their employees. Before long, the book transforms from a screed against the horrible way white people treat the black people in the south into a long-form warning of what will happen if you hire a black maid. This changes the maid industry overnight into another "whites only" form of employment.

But whites can't cook and they suck at raising children. The suburban aristocracy considers hiring Latino workers, but just don't even have the energy to try. Soon enough, they come crawling back black maids begging them to return. To sweeten the deal and make up for past mistakes, they promise better working conditions. Maids will finally make minimum wage. They can have Saturdays off. They can even have their very own bathrooms.

So the white lesbian's book helped bridge racial inequalities in the south. The accomplishment is somewhat moot now that fear of education has turned many white and black southerners into department store peons working for Jews up in New York City.

And as for the white lesbian herself, she ends up getting married to some dude. One social problem at at time, people.


(three stars)