I took my mom to see the movie adaptation a few weeks ago.
It was odd to be in a room with about 50 of my mothers. I swear they (an entirely female audience) would all laugh and chuckle the same way at the same times. There was even a moment when they all cackled and said in sync “She burned her chicken!” Bizarre experience.
I found the movie entertaining enough, but it felt too… light. White washed. The movie seemed to gloss over the very real, very terrible dangers the maids faced by taking part in the telling of their stories. I felt that the main actresses expressed that real fear, but that the audience was never forced to understand exactly what it was that they feared. So I took the opportunity to read the book when I saw it lying on my mom’s couch to see if it was any better.
The story is about Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a new college grad and aspiring writer. She’s back in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. Taking an editor’s advice to write about what disturbs her (particularly if it bothers no one else), Skeeter begins to collect stories about what it is really like to work as a black maid in the white South. It is dangerous work, and the book excels in introducing the reader to those dangers.
It is told through the perspectives of Skeeter and two maids, Aibileen and Minny. Aibileen works for one of Skeeter’s friends. Minny was formerly employed by her friend’s mother.
I liked that the book actually showed the ramifications of the eventual publication of their collected stories even though it was technically anonymous. The tension was palpably prickly as the maids worried over the discovery of who was involved. This was where the reader truly began to understand what the potential fallout could be.
Most of the backlash the book received should be directed toward the film. I think any medium that covers such a topic should not be afraid to hit a nerve. The book at least attempts to hit where the movie actively avoided.
God forbid we step on anyone’s racist toes.