'The Help': Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer on its impact and critics
As The Help makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel is sure to ignite another round of heated debate and discussion surrounding its subject matter. About a group of black Mississippi maids in the early 1960s (primarily the ones played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both in performances earning some heavy Oscar buzz) and the young, white reporter eager to tell their story (played by 2011 It Actress Emma Stone), the film’s exploration of race, gender, and class had supporters and detractors voicing their opinions with equal fervor.
While certainly a boon for the film’s box-office — The Help has grossed nearly $200 million worldwide — being in the middle of that kind of cultural contretemps can be rather overwhelming. But when they spoke recently with EW about the film’s home video release, both Stone and Spencer shared some thoughtful insights on what it’s been like for them to witness it from the inside out.
“The interesting thing about the response to The Help is that I get fewer questions than stories,” Stone tells EW. “I think because it’s a movie about sharing your story. Even in interviews, Viola and I would be in a press junket and realize that most of the time and gone by and they hadn’t even asked us a question yet, because they’d be saying, ‘I’m from the South and my grandmother went through this…’ It really has made people tell me about their history and their family and what their experience was growing up, even if they’re not from the South. That’s been different from other movies. Less questions and more answers, I guess. It’s really cool.”
As for Spencer, she wishes the film’s critics had more of an open mind. “I don’t know if it’s a large group or a small group,” she says, “[but] there’s a group of people that like to categorize art — whether it’s visual, literature, film, just art — in an elitist way. In my opinion, the best films are the ones that elicit an emotional response, whether it’s anger, whether it’s a sense of empathy, sympathy. They also stimulate us intellectually, and perhaps provide some escapism. I think The Help checks all of those boxes…I would say to the intellectual elite who perhaps look down their nose rather imperiously at a project like this, I think they should reconsider and understand the value of [it], because we are having a very needed, very necessary dialogue with regard to how we treat each other, to the human condition…with regard to race relations, with regard to classism.”
In fact, Spencer also sees that discussion applying to today’s headline-grabbing social struggles. “I mean, we could basically shoot The Help right now and substitute Occupy Wall Street for Minny and Aibileen.”
(Additional reporting by Adam Markovitz)