The Black Student Union marked the last Black History Month event with a panel discussion of scenes from the movie “The Help” before 40 students and staff, on Feb. 23 in the President’s Dining Room.
The Oscar nominated film “The Help” is set during the 1960s civil rights movement and focuses from an aspiring author, Skeeter Phelan, who is writing a book on the point of view of African-American maids and their relationships with the white families they work for.
“I like the emotion the movie evokes in the viewer,” said Jeremy McWells, activities coordinator of BSU and panel moderator. “(The movie) is going to reveal some skeletons of our history.”
The panel included BSU adviser Leeshawn Moore, as well as Jeanette Williams, who lived through something similar to the maids in the movie when she helped white families at the age of 17.
“When I saw the movie it was like someone had pushed a rewind button and I went back to the ’60s,” Williams said.
The first scene shown demonstrated how Hilly Holbrook, a white woman, was scared to use a restroom previously used by a black maid in fear of acquiring a disease.
Black maids were usually required to use a separate restroom outside the home.
The panel members, as well as the audience, commented on the hypocrisy in the scene.
“I was always puzzled by this because we raised the white babies, yet we couldn’t use the same restroom,” Williams said.
In the next scene shown, Skeeter reminisces about time spent with her childhood maid, Constantine, and the way she encouraged her and helped her self-esteem.
“Constantine is truly rich in her words and in her wisdom,” Karla Rayos, an attendee, said.
Later in the movie, Hilly, and her maid, Minny, are trapped inside because of a heavy storm. When Minny cannot go outside because of the rain, she uses the inside restroom, causing Hilly to yell out of fear and outrage.
Williams discussed how she felt compassion for Holbrook because she was raised to have this fear against African Americans.
Williams also pointed out that nobody is born racist; it is something that is taught.
“The racism would be programmed into their children,” Williams said.
Christianity was also a topic covered in the panel as it was the excuse Hilly took to not lend $75 to Aibileen Clark, a maid who wanted the money to send one of her sons to college.
“A true Christian doesn’t give charity to those who are well and able,” Hilly said.
“It really made people wonder, ‘Is this God’s will, to be oppressed and treated that way?’” Moore said.
Christianity has also been used as an excuse to keep slaves and to suppress women.
“Christianity is distorted in their view,” Williams said.
Moore and Williams wish that history would make it clear that not all whites hated African-Americans and many risked their lives to stand up against racism.
Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen knew exactly how dangerous it was to be writing this book.
“One of the things you didn’t do is take the black side or talk about black issues,” Moore said.
During Skeeter’s interviewing sessions with the help, all three of them ate and Minny also shared some cooking tips.
“They were able to come together and do something positive,” Moore said. “Food brought them together to communicate and to be open and tear some walls down.”
The panel brought the positive message that change is made by everyday, normal people doing what is right and by working with children to try to end racism for future generations.
As adults, many white children who were raised by African-American help have now integrated these women as part of their families.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the story “BSU panel tackles racism, religion” on page 6 of the March 2 issue, Leeshawn Moore and Jeanette Williams were referred to as maids in the 1960s. Moore did not work as a maid. The Campus Times regrets the error.