Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"The Help" Might Hit A Little Too Close To Home For Some White Southerners







The first time heard about the newly released movie, "The Help," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Help_(film) was several weeks ago from one of my Facebook friends named Gene Simmons. Gene is the famous bass player from the rock band, "Kiss" that's been around for almost 40 years and I am one of the his lucky 5,000 friends who has the privilege to be acquainted with him on his Facebook page. Apparently, Gene likes to go to movies often with his family especially newly released movies. He said it was a great movie and that he highly recommended it on his Facebook page.


Then my wife goes to Oxford, Miss., last week for a visit for several days with two of her best friends and they go see it. So on the way back home to Bowling Green, after I picked her up, I basically heard about the whole movie. I didn't know at the time, what to quite to think about the movie from her description. However, she just kept commenting on how good the movie was and that I would like it and that I should go see it. I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

So last night, my wife and I and our good friend from church go see it at the theatre here in Bowling Green. The theatre was crowed with mostly white people and only a hand full of African Americans. It's a long movie (see trailer) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuNPN_9f1CM but I was really entertained throughout the whole movie and I could really relate to it especially since I was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., and we also had hired help too during my 14 years of living there. I also spent 11 of my years in Mississippi where I graduated high school and went to college at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford which is not too far where the movie takes place in the early 1960's in Jackson, Miss. Our maid's name was Mary Lee and everyone called her "May Lee." May Lee, who wore a white uniform when she worked for us and who's husband was a veterinary hand and a preacher, was a hard worker, cooked and cleaned for the Smith household and practically raised me. She would also punish me me when I got out of line liked when I crossed the street without her permission or the time I almost burned the BBQ Pit House down in the backyard along with my friend John Rutstein from down the street. Basically, she would strip a mulberry bush limb and make a switch and whip my legs until the bled. Back in the middle 1960's, people could get away with that kind of whippings on children. She also had my parents permission to do so. And if I got mouthy and disrespectful calling her the "n' word, I would send me upstairs and I couldn't come down until my parents got home from work.


However, May Lee had a gentle side too. She would pitch the baseball with me outside, watch me when I went swimming in the baby pool at the former Army Depot Country Club in Memphis off Airways Boulevard among other things. We would talk for hours at a time too when I was a little fellow. That's how I related to the movie last night. I was strongly reminded our help and that strong figure of a woman in my early life, "May Lee."


Now if my mother were still alive, the movie may have offended her because it might have hit a little too close to home. It might have reminded her of the time, May Lee wanted more money during the in the 1960's Civil Rights movement but my mother did not wanted to pay her anymore than she was already paying her. So May Lee left to go work for a neighbor. I remember it felt so strange to see May Lee go work for the Davenports one morning. I cried because she had known me from the day I was brought home from the hospital. However, they managed to work out a deal and she came back to work for us until my parents divorce in 1974. I have only seen her three times since 1974. I saw her once in 1980 when my sister and I went by to see her at her house in Cordova, Tenn., and at my dad's funeral in 1993 and then my mother's funeral in 2000, both in Memphis. May Lee is still living today and we still keep up with each other through phone calls and cards usually at Christmas and birthdays. She also still calls me "her son," and we always end our cards by saying "Love, Galen or May Lee."


The only draw back about this movie, if you're not from the South, you might get some wrong impressions that are magnified in the film about Mississippians and Southerners. And I would dare say that somethings in the film are misrepresented or twisted, but I would also say a lot of it is accurate. It's just the way things were back then in the 1950's and 1960's in the South. There's nothing we can do to go back and change or undo anything except learn from it and try to continue to understand the needs and feelings of others. I would say that a lot of white Southern parents who were involved in those type of behaviors portrayed in the film are probably long gone by now. Our generation, the Baby Boomers, we were the children that were raised by "The Help" or the "Maids" if you will and who are still around to see the movie and try to make sense of it all. For me, it reminds me of the strong bond that was made with our maid during my childhood while being raised in the South.


All in all, the movie is great and I highly recommend it like Gene says. You won't be disappointed far as a movie about the South goes. Just try to keep an open mind when you see it, that's all.

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