The Help: Is the 2011 Movie Inspired by Real People?

‘The Help’ chronicles the tale of four women who try to survive in the turbulent Southern culture during the 1960s. Skeeter, a journalist; Celia, a woman with a troublesome story; and Aibileen and Minny, two maids with almost predestined futures, cross paths. Skeeter decides to write the stories of these women, and in an attempt to do so, they form a beautiful bond. The 2011 drama film is helmed by Tate Taylor and moves one to tears. If the movie left an impact on your feelings, and you wish to know whether the narrative is rooted in true events, we’ve got you covered.

The Help is Based on Kathryn Stockett’s Novel

No, ‘The Help’ is not based on a true story. The movie is inspired by Kathryn Stockett’s eponymous historical fictional novel. However, it does include real events such as racism faced by black women, who were “house helpers” for white families and also referred to as “help.” Even though the movie is fictional, there were some controversies around it. Ablene Cooper is a black woman who worked as a nanny for Kathryn’s family. As per reports, she filed a $75,000 dollar lawsuit against the author and claimed that the 2009 book drew inspiration from her life.

The character Aibileen is a similar sounding name to “Ablene” and also has the same life story as her, which includes her son’s untimely death. According to Ablene, the author appropriated her name and image without her permission. Moreover, Kathryn had purportedly promised Ablene that her story would not be a part of the book. In an interview, Abilene expressed her feelings about the whole ordeal. She said, “‘I just cried and cried after I read the first few pages. In the book, Aibileen takes her job five months after her son is killed in an accident.”

Abilene added, “My son, Willie, had leukemia and died when he was 18, in July 1998, three months before I went to work for the Stocketts. I felt the emotions in my heart all over again. Kathryn copied parts of my life and used them without even asking me.” However, the case never substantiated anything and was dismissed by the court. Therefore, ‘The Help’ remains a work of fiction. Viola Davis, who essays the role of Aibileen Clark in the movie, spoke about the challenges she faced as an actress in an interview with Collider, explaining how she was careful about not making her portrayal caricaturish but authentic.

Viola wanted to include the part about wearing wigs in the movie because, throughout history, it has been a part of their culture. Initially, her character is in the bathtub with corn rows, and in the next scene, she has a wig. This subtly depicts how black women want to be seen in the presence of others. The author started penning the novel after the 9/11 attacks because she believed that the event helped her tap into the sadness of Aibileen, which she couldn’t previously understand due to her privilege. Kathryn also revealed that she wrote in the voice of her domestic worker Demetrie, who had a calming and soothing voice.

In the interview, Kathryn shared her thoughts about the book being adapted into a novel. She said, “Every night, when they called a wrap, we’d go out skinny-dipping, drinking, and eating. We all put on so much weight. I put on 10 lbs, and Tate gained, I think, 30 lbs. When we finally saw the movie with a real audience, I realized they weren’t playing around. I think it really is beautiful and not just because Tate made it.” The drama shows the turbulent politics of the era and how it influenced the social construct.

While adapting the novel for the screen, the author and the director undoubtedly made an effort to encapsulate the emotions felt by black women. Kathryn’s research reportedly consisted of going to the Eudora Welty Library in Jackson and examining the back of old phone books, which were a gateway to the 1960s for her. She read the Clarion-Ledger newspapers for factual information and even interviewed both African-Americans and white folks.

The writer recalled how the middle-aged woman would describe the details of their domestic workers with great admiration. There was almost an eagerness and a need to thank them one last time for their guidance and everything they’d ever taught them. Kathryn also unveiled that Aibileen is her favorite character because, according to her, she was inspired by Demetrie. She said the easiest one to write was Minny, and her friend Octavia (actress) served as the inspiration for the same. Lastly, the hardest one to write was Skeeter.

Taking the aforementioned points into consideration, we reiterate ‘The Help’ is an attempt to bring a much-less discussed issue into the light, and even though it had some controversies surrounding it, the movie was well-received by the audience. The exact plot of the movie is fictional, but most characters are inspired by observing real-life people in Kathryn’s life.

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