The Help’s Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor share views on their book, movie.
The day after I spoke with Kathryn Stockett, author of the bestselling novel, The Help and the movie’s director Tate Taylor, I received one of those spam-ish group emails from a family member.
Its message was bashing President Obama, which I could have let go because I know that political jokesters and pundits pick on all presidents. But this one was blatantly racist. It irritated me. I almost just ignored it and hit “delete,” when Stockett’s words from the previous day echoed in my mind:
“If you see something that you don’t agree with, start talking about it. You can be a coward and be afraid to be criticized, or you can do something about it. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who keep their mouths shut.”
I was moved to send my “Reply All” response, kindly stating that the email sent to me was racist, that I did not support racism, and that I support our President…no matter who it is or what color he/she is. And I asked to please be removed from future racist emails.
Only one person replied that I couldn’t take a joke. Oh well.
Stockett’s novel boldly struck a chord with many people of many races, and brought to light her experiences with African American maids working in white households in the South during the 1960s. Millions have read it, often with a mixture of raw, tearful emotion. It has angered some folks. It was a bestselling novel and a box office success, proving that controversy does get our attention.
Stockett and Taylor appeared together as keynote speakers at this year’s annual LiveWell Conference, hosted by CHRISTUS St. John Hospital and held at South Shore Harbour Hotel and Conference Center on May 10. They have been close friends since they met when they were 5-years-old at Mothers’ Morning Out preschool in Jackson, Mississippi. There is a sweet, sassy, brotherly-sisterly chemistry between them, as well as like-mindedness. They often finish each other’s sentences and were a joy to meet and talk with.
CM: When you wrote The Help, what was your intention?
KS: I’d been writing a different book, so it wasn’t that the story called to me, it was that I was calling to the story. I happened upon this voice, which was Abilene, and it felt right. I sent it to my mom and she said, this might be better than you think. And she encouraged me to keep going.
CM: What is your personal connection to the novel?
KS: Our connection really started when we were children because we had these amazing African American women who looked after us. Mine was Dimitri, Tate’s was Carol Lee. So we wanted to reflect on the past.
TT: For me, when I read Kathryn’s book, I thought of all the things Carol Lee taught me. She’s still in my life and she’s actually in the movie in two spots. I was just so excited to get to go home with her and see who her friends were and what it was like at her house. Things I never saw as a child.
CM: The book and movie have created quite a bit of controversy. What are your thoughts on creating controversy to create change?
KS: We love stirring the pot, whether change happens or not, it’s fun! When things are too settled and too agreeable, that’s an opportunity.
TT: What The Help has done is gotten people to start talking about an issue that has not gone away. It’s just become a dead topic. People haven’t been having the conversations that The Help created in a really long time.
I think people are having these conversations more now, and it’s made a younger generation learn and think about their grandparents; who may have been taken for granted and hadn’t talked about it much as a family. From the movie standpoint—demographically speaking—African American and Latino males are the biggest fans of The Help.
CM: Why do you suppose you’ve attracted these male fans?
TT: It’s given them a porthole to see their heritage and the women who came before them and sacrificed so much. These men became extremely emotional and realized that their history should not be something that should be buried.
In the movie, Viola and Octavia called it “The Blacklash,” because there was a shame, and it was like, let’s move on. But they took on these roles and played these women because they are the most strong and powerful women who ever existed. And their point was, look where we’re sitting right now because of these women. We don’t want to bury them under the rug and not talk about them. Hopefully it’s brought them new respect.
CM: Do you have any advice for people who may want to speak out about an injustice they strongly disagree with?
KS: It’s just got to be done. I think that what we’re doing now, we’re going to look at in another 50 years and say, what the heck were we thinking? What might seem very commonplace now, even if we don’t like it, is going to look absurd down the road.
CM: You stated that your Help manuscript (its original title) received 60 rejections before it was published. Yet you kept on putting it out there. How did you keep from becoming discouraged?
KS: You can choose to accept rejection, or reject rejection. I am a big supporter of following your dreams. Don’t believe your parents when they say they won’t support you any longer if you don’t find a ‘real job.’ You’d be surprised!
TT: If you don’t quit, you cannot have failed.
CM: Can you tell me about your next work?
KS: My next work takes place in Mississippi. I still have some things to say about this place! It’s about a group of women growing up in the roaring twenties. These girls have no marketable skills. They find a “unique” way to make a living. That’s all I can say!