By Anthony Breznican
Updated April 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Anyone who mistreats a housemaid should remember who has a lot of experience airing dirty laundry.

Despite the jaunty music in this trailer for The Help (the horn section from “Last Night” by The Mar-Keys figures prominently), the undercurrents are grim. Set in pre-civil rights era Mississippi, the trailer sets up the freespirited female bonding between ahead-of-her-times aspiring journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) and two put-upon black maids, the stoic Aibileen (Viola Davis) and defiant Minny (Octavia Spencer). There’s not much hint of the heavier drama that unfolds. As an introduction to those not familiar with the the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this early look at the movie leans heavily on the lighter elements.

We get a taste of the plot: Skeeter decides to write something important and meaningful, and sees quiet strife in the lives of these two housekeepers, not to mention the many others like them. Though they spend much of their lives in the homes of these wealthy white employers, cleaning, cooking, and looking after their children, they earn modest livings but not much respect. One particularly contemptuous mistress of the house, Hilly (a chipper and hateful Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to create a law that requires black household workers to use separate, exterior bathrooms.

That sets off the story’s collision of class and race, set in a time when few people of color felt they had the opportunity to stand up for their own dignity. Those who did could count on fierce resistance. We see the relationship forged between Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny becomes one of trust first, not love. These are people from two different worlds, uniting in common cause. Maybe the love comes later. What happens next? Unless you grab the book, that question won’t be answered until The Help opens August 12. Check out the trailer below:

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