Social Issues in the film ‘The Help’

Social Issues in the film ‘The Help’


The Help is a 2011 movie based on a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett that details the lives of the black house helps who dedicated their lives to taking care of prominent white families. The film is set in Jackson Mississippi in the 1960s and focusses on Aibeleen, Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper who opens up about her experiences as a house help. Her decision later encourages more women to come forward to tell their stories, a step that jeopardizes Skeeter’s friendship with her white friends. Jackson was a racially segregated town, and the black community was closely knit. Upon her graduation, Skeeter returns home and realizes that her nanny is gone. The realization prompts her to write a book about the sour relationship between black maids and the southern society. The stories from the eleven black women who show up to be interviewed finally changes the face of Jackson Mississippi as Skeeter publishes her book, ‘The Help.’ Several social justice issues are evident from the film, a scenario that helps in the assessment of the progress that has taken place in the realms of justice. It causes an awakening of the ills that the southern society pelted on black maids who raised their children. The film features elements of racial segregation, violence, and dehumanization, which deprive the realization of social justice in South America.

Racial Segregation

Racial segregation refers to the systematic separation of people based on their racial backgrounds. It is a set of cultural, institutional and interpersonal patterns, and standards of life that create advantages and disadvantages for white and non-white people respectively (Hajah & Thoyibi, 2018). It applicable and influences fundamental societal in activities such as school attendance, search for a decent job, and utilization of services provided by social amenities such as restaurants. The film mirrors the 1963 Jackson Mississippi when black women worked for the southerners as maids (Mathew & Mathew, 2019). In the movie, white people had clear advantages as compared to non-white. For instance, Skeeter and her friends, Hilly Holbrook and Elizabeth Leefolt, had the privilege of owning cars, going to college, living in large homes and employing black maids to work for them. The blacks were confined in their smaller homes, and their children sometimes had to drop out of school and take up low paying jobs. Aibeleen and her friends are clear representations of how the minority blacks lived and survived in Jackson Mississippi (Hajah & Thoyibi, 2018). For instance, in Aibeleen’s neighborhood, nobody had the luxury of using a car; instead, they had to use Jackson’s transit system or sometimes even walk for long distance (Atmaca, 2016). Racism is also evidenced in the film based on the different levels of respect accorded to individuals based on whether they are whites or non-whites. For instance, Hilly Brooks did not allow her maid to use the main house bathroom, and Skeeter was not pleased about it, “I was raised by a colored woman. We love them, and they love us – but they can’t even use the toilets in our houses, ” (Hussein, 2016). Skeeter’s sentiments reveal the height of racism in Jackson.

The humanistic perspective can elaborate on how the issue of racial segregation impacted Aibeleen and her friends. Human perspective stresses the need for equal human rights and freedom among individuals irrespective of their race, gender, or national origin, an aspect which is lacking from the film (Tuan, 2017). As a result, the protagonist, Aibeleen and her friends had a lowered self-image, and they always felt subordinate to their white employers. The human perspective is also built on the principle that people can change the conditions of their lives by taking responsibility for the things that happen in their lives. For instance, when there was an altercation, and Medgar Evers lost his life, Aibeleen and Henry ran away from home fearing for their lives. They felt that the color of their skin made them targets of violence (Hajah & Thoyibi, 2018). That instance reveals that Aibeleen and other disadvantaged blacks in the film knew and accepted the racial inequalities that were rife in Jackson Mississippi. Also, when Skeeter asks Aibeleen to ride in her car, Aibeleen fears to take up such good gesture because the law in Jackson prevented blacks from mingling freely with whites.

Hence, Aibeleen believes that accepting the gesture would portray her as a person who does not abide by the rules and laws of the land. Due to racial segregation, Aibeleen is likely to suffer from depression. Racism has negative impacts on the physical and mental health of a person. It triggers anxiety, fear, sadness, and hate that can lead to depression. Since Aibeleen lacks perceptions of control over her safety and environment, there is a likelihood of stress and anxiety that can automatically lead to depression (Tuan, 2017). Interpersonal therapy can treat Aibeleen’s depression since it focusses on a person accepting his/her unpleasant past and hoping for a better present and future social circumstance that can better enhance the person’s welfare. Hence, the process can help Aibeleen face her fears and effectively overcome the status quo associated with racial discrimination in Jackson Mississippi.


Violence refers to actions or words that may be intended to hurt another person or group of people. The film was set during the civil rights movement when physical, and other forms of violence were pelted against the non-whites. The violence intended to stop the flow of change which aimed to establish racial equity in Jackson Mississippi (Mathew & Mathew, 2019). The film shows domestic and workplace violence. For instance, Minny was a victim of domestic violence since Leroy beat her most of the time. “If I didn’t hit you Minny, who knows what you would become?” (Hussein, 2016). Leroy is verbally and physically abusive to his wife and wields unneeded control over his children. The stories of the maids that Skeeter interviewed revealed that they were sexually abused and sometimes brutalized by their employers (Hussein, 2016). The maids have been at the center of the violence in Jackson Mississippi since they are directly involved with the white southerners.

The film also reveals how Hilly uses her influence to have Yule May sentenced to four years for a crime the latter did not commit, a situation that shows how the white could manipulate Jackson’s legal system to inflict violence and untold suffering on the blacks. The glaring revelation of violence is evident in the initial refusal of the maids to tell their stories (Hussein, 2016). Their refusal to tell such stories shows that the repercussions of opening up would make them vulnerable to the public eye, especially from the southerners. Although the film scraps off most visual violence, it shows the pain of suffering in silence and having no one to turn to for help (Atmaca, 2016). Also, women dominate the film thus revealing that women are often the primary victims of most injustices and discriminations in the society.

The psychoanalytic perspective explains violence in the context of the lives of the black people in the film. It focusses on repressed memories and emotions that limit a person’s ability to live a whole and healthy life. The perspective centers on the significance of the unconscious mind and how it is essential in enhancing a person’s welfare. It aims to expose the subconscious mind and level it up to the conscious for a proper comprehension of overarching human challenges (Al-Shawaf, Conroy-Beam, Asao & Buss, 2016). A person’s behavior is determined by his/her past experiences that are embedded in the person unconscious mind. The interactions with people can result in specific behavioral patterns and personality. Without knowing, fear can influence a person’s present thoughts thus preventing the person from doing something. The maids who agreed to undergo an interview for Skeeter’s novel were unconsciously refusing the interview due to their past experiences in the hands of brutal employers who sexually abused them. The fear of brutality was always lingering in everything they were doing. As a result, there was some aspect of conflict in these maids’ minds whether to be courageous and speak out of the brutal experience they are undergoing or to shut up and continue suffering mentally and emotionally.

Due to the violence they faced, the maids are likely to suffer mental illness in the future. The women who had been sexually abused and brutalized by their employers are likely to suffer short and long-term effects on their mental health. For instance, they may experience flashbacks of the ordeals, feelings of shame and guilt for the violence they experienced. They may feel unwanted by their family members, friends and the perpetrators of the violence, who may attempt other forms of violence on them. As a result, the built up of pressure will lead to mental illness. The best treatment for mental illness for these maids would be psychotherapy, which focusses on a series of treatments. Since mental illness attributed to sexual assault can reveal itself differently for victims, psychotherapy will help them to move past the traumatic events and regain control of their healthy lives.


Dehumanization refers to behaviors that undermine a person’s individuality and dignity. It involves treating someone as though he/she lacks the mental faculties that a normal person should have. The most evident form of dehumanization is often exercised in the form of sexism. Sexism seeks to make men more privileged than women. The film depicts Minny’s husband as a sexist who dehumanizes his wife. For instance, when Minny loses her job, Leroy decides that their daughter should drop out of school and work as a maid. Minny was a victim of heightened sexism that resulted in untold physical abuse from the husband. In one of the scenes, the husband throws objects at her and even beat her. Leroy undermined the individuality of Minny and saw her as an object rather than as a person with emotions and a mind of her own (Atmaca, 2016). Skeeter’s boyfriend also showed sexist remarks upon realizing that it was Skeeter who wrote the novel. In Jackson Mississipi, women, regardless of color, had their place in domestic realms. It was unorthodox for these women to involve themselves in the fight for social justice which was a male domain (Lloyd, 2016). As a result, the movie is rife with the dehumanization of women by men and by women themselves.

The psychological perspective that explains dehumanization as a social justice issue is a humanist perspective. It underscores the study of a whole person in the eyes of the observer and the one who is behaving. A person’s behavior is directly proportional to their inner feelings of self-worth. It views individuals as unique and elaborates that human’s innate craving for self-actualization can make them act in various ways. For instance, Leroy’s behavior stems from the need to preserve his self-identity as a man in a society that undermines his race. It is possible that Leroy hopes to exercise power over his wife and children even when the white majority undermines that privilege. His experiences in Jackson may have led to his underlying sexist behavior that dehumanizes his wife. Similarly, Skeeter’s boyfriend wants to assert male dominance over Skeeter, and this is what makes their relationship to end.

Minny is likely to suffer from mental health problems in the future as a result of anxiety. From the film, it is evident that Minny is increasingly dependent on the husband, despite the dehumanization of the latter. At some point in the movie, Minny starts to believe the words and actions of Leroy and consequently perceive herself as a lesser human. Such perceptions are what leads to feelings of fear, anger, resentment, and powerlessness, and which if not addressed and controlled can result in suicidal attempts. The therapeutic technique for dehumanization is to seek support such as counseling to be able to establish lasting solutions and healing, which is something that Skeeter was trying to accomplish.


The Help is a movie that elaborates elements of racial segregation, violence, and dehumanization, as factors that limit the pursuit of social justice in Jackson Mississippi. Racial discrimination, the overarching theme in the film, depicts the inequality and suffering of black maids as a representation of the glaring racism evident in Mississippi. Skeeter changes the situation upon her interview with the maids, who detail the horrendous ordeals they experience at the hands of their ruthless employers. These social justice issues expose the possibility of psychological disorders that the victims are likely to experience such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the humanistic and the psychoanalytic perspectives, as applied by Skeeter, help in the understanding of various therapeutic techniques that can be useful in treating such disorders and enable the maids to gain their normal lives.



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