By Samantha Ofole-Prince
It may seem like just another book deal brought to the big screen, but the story of how this came together is one of trial and triumph.
A movie based on the New York Times best-selling debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help,” which took five years for Stockett to write was rejected by several publishers before it was finally published by Penguin Books in 2009.
“I had 60 rejections and couldn’t get the book published. Number 61 was finally the agent that took me on,” admits Stockett. “It’s funny for after 3 years of rejections, I could wallpaper my walls with all of them,” adds the author, who drew her inspiration for the book from her childhood memory. A childhood memory shared by the movie’s director Tate Taylor, also a friend of Stockett's, Taylor was instrumental in getting the book to the big screen.
An inspiring story about black maids working for white families in Mississippi in the 1960s, it chronicles the journey of three very different women in Jackson, who come together and embark on a secret writing project.
A successful adaptation from book to big screen, it all began with a passionate pitch by Taylor, who saw his friend Stockett on the verge of giving up on publishing her book. A fictional manuscript, it revolved around a black maid called Aibileen Clark who collaborates with a white journalist (played by Emma Stone) to pen her experiences of working in a white household. From their alliance, a remarkable sisterhood emerges instilling both with the courage to cross the racial lines that divide them.
“I started reading the manuscript and was blown away,” shares Taylor. “I was moved by the truth of the story and these unlikely women coming together to create change in Mississippi in 1963, and I called Kathryn and said: 'You cannot give up. This will be published and if it doesn’t, I ‘II make it into a movie.”
For Taylor and Stockett, who finally signed over the movie rights, bringing the pages to life on the big screen faced a new set of challenges. Despite, the success of the book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for several months, many studios rejected the screenplay Taylor adapted. The duo finally found success with DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider (partner, co-chairman, CEO) who along with Steven Spielberg agreed to make the movie.
Produced by Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, “The Help” is a deeply moving movie, filled with humor and heart and for actress Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen Clark, the maid, it was a role she relished playing.
“I very rarely get to be a part of a movie or play where black people and white people are together forming a relationship. Two different roles that just melt together,” says Davis. “Aibileen is very different from who I am, and that is always interesting to me as an actress. She doesn’t talk a lot and it was an interesting challenge to communicate her in a life without the words. I always want to break that stereotype to show that we sometimes are repressed and don’t always say what we feel. I am drawn to the character who doesn’t say what she feels and says what she thinks.”
l-r: Emma Stone as Skeeter, Octavia Spencer as Minny
and Viola Davis as Abilene
“The Help,” which centers around three courageous women who strike up an unlikely friendship is a charming flick. Well-acted and compelling, the writers have scripted in meaty characters as well with the casting of a lesser known actress, Octavia Spencer, in the role of Minny -- an outspoken maid, who delivers the movie’s most memorable lines.
A successful book can translate into big money at the box office since it brings along an audience already familiar with the story and while not all adaptations have found success, “The Help” is a timeless and universal story about the ability to instigate change and is a big screen adaptation that’s worth the movie ticket price.