Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Racism and the Cinema - thoughts on "The Help"

Emma Stone and Viola Davis star in "The Help", now in theaters

Racism. You would think that by now, in the technological progress of the 21st century, that we would have moved beyond such a horrible reality. But the reality is that racism still runs rampant in our nation, predominantly in the south. Growing up in Memphis has given me a deeper insight into this mess than I ever cared to know, but now that I do know, I do care. How could someone ever judge someone and treat them as inferiors based solely on the color of their skin?

I went to see "The Help" this past weekend with a couple of friends. I had heard that the movie was a must-see and that Emma Stone shone as an actress. Yes, I went for entertainment purposes - not to be enlightened- yet left the theater deep in thought. In case you haven't seen it (or read the book), "The Help" follows a young journalist nicknamed Skeeter (Emma Stone) as she returns to her hometown of Jackson, MS following her graduation from Ole Miss. She promptly accepts a job as a housekeeping advice columnist for the newspaper as all her friends are busy starting families, having babies, hosting bridge parties, etc... with the assistance of 'the help', or the black maids that work in their houses. 

As a progressive woman who has always shied away from tradition, Skeeter begins to write an exposé on 'the help' with the assistance of several maids, to shed some light on the unfair treatment and racial prejudice against these black employees. Along the way she gains friends in Aibileen and Minny (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and loses some old friends ( Bryce Dallas Howard as the infuriating Hilly Holbrook). Facing danger of social rejection and their safety from the KKK in the ever heating Civil Rights Movement, Skeeter publishes the stories of these maids as an anonymous book called "The Help", which starts to illuminate the heartache and unfairness that is racism.

The performances in this film are nothing less than amazing. The production design of the early 1960's looks exactly like every picture your grandmother ever showed you. But the reason that this movie is so darn good is that it has HEART. At the core of this movie is a story of relationship. Whether it is Skeeter's strained relationship with her mother, her gained friendship with Aibileen; or whether it is Hilly Holbrook's cold hatred towards Minny, or the outcast "white trash" Celia Foote (played by Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain) "The Help" is jam packed with people wanting to be loved, wanting to be accepted. If we think about it, that is why racism is so wrong. We are withholding love from someone who has every right to receive it. Who are we to withhold love from someone for a reason so horrid as race or skin color? As a Christian I am reminded of Colossians 3:11 when it says "Here (in Christ) there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."  

We could also look at John 12:34 - "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Or perhaps 2 Corinthains 13:11 - "Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." Biblically speaking, there is no justification at all for racism. Which makes perfect sense. The simple ugly truth about racism is that it won't go away. As long as there are people rejecting God, rejecting His perfect LOVE then there is absolutely NO way that they can love others. So what can we do? We can show the love of God to them. As the saying goes "You may be the only Jesus they ever see." 

How do we confront racism? With love. With God's unending love. Through our actions, our attitude, our humility, and our love the world will know that we are God's and that He desires for them to know Him. No matter what skin color, what heritage, what horrible sins they may have committed- no matter what, God desires for all men to know him. "By this will they know you are my disciples, that you love one another." Thus says John 12:35. We can make an impact. We simply must show HIS love to those around us. 

"The Help" is rated PG-13 for thematic material and is in theaters now. I do not recommend it for children because of language and the intense thematic material surrounding racism. See it and let it challenge the way you think about your relationships!

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