The Help and Where We Are Today

The time portrayed in the film The Help seems like ancient history, the 60s… but many of the battles of that decade are still being fought today. Having watched the film with the group, one participant noted that as new immigrants we have to be more aware of the “shameful” times in the history of the United States and learn more.

And this is true. We need to learn more, not only to know the history of our new country, but also to be able to participate in public discussions and connect the current news and developments to their roots.

The Help demonstrated, very starkly, the horrors of the deeply-rooted racial discrimination in the US through the personal stories of several women.  The same week we watched the film, the scandal around Paula Dean, the famous chef, TV show host and restaurateur from Savannah, Georgia, erupted.  A southerner, Paula Dean allegedly used racial slurs around her employees. Some of the people say in her defense that this is the South, and ’of course’ white people use racial epithets in everyday life, especially the generation of the 1950’s, to which Ms. Dean’s parents belong.  As if this ‘of course’ gives any justification to keep using certain words and names, so heavily laden with that shameful history of  division and racism we saw in The Help. Is it acceptable to use racial slurs in any situation?

This week the Supreme Court of the United States has all but invalidated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act was an achievement of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. The Act required nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal approval before making any changes in their local election laws. The Act was put in place to protect minorities from discrimination in their voting rights.  This week’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down this Act will free these nine states from the requirement of federal approval. Many people worry now that this decision is premature, and minorities in the South still face discrimination in voting. One of the examples cited is Texas’ new regulation to require voters to show state ID cards, a possible obstacle to the right to vote as many people, especially those living in poverty and minorities, often do not have ID cards.  In The Help we heard one of the main characters talking about how dangerous it was for a black person to go to a voting booth. Are these dangers ancient history, or can we see examples of this type of discrimination today?

And one more recent example of interconnection between the film and the current time. A new TV series, the comedy-drama Devious Maids, premiered this week on Lifetime. The story revolves around four Latina maids who serve rich and wealthy families in California. The tone, storylines, genre and quality of this series are hard to compare to The Help, but the stories are similar nevertheless.  Devious Maids is told by the maids. They are all friends who share their stories, misfortunes, problems and the exploitation they face in the houses of the wealthy, and try to help each other. Sound familiar?

by Tanzilya Oren and Caitlin Murphy

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