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The Help actresses are worth celebrating for their off-screen roles, too

When released in 2011, The Help movie became an instant classic that had audiences laughing and crying around the globe. The film was adapted and directed by Tate Taylor and is based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. The story centers around a southern society girl who returns to the town of Jackson, Mississippi and ends up interviewing two Black women working for wealthy white families at the cusp of the civil rights era. Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) first interviews Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) about their experience working in Jackson, Mississippi, and in turn, inspired more women to step forward and tell their stories.

When filming The Help, Tate Taylor stayed true to Kathryn Stockett’s original story and only made minor changes in the film. 

So, is The Help based on a true story?

Kathryn Stockett described the novel as fiction, but she based The Help off her early years growing up in Jackson, Mississippi where many of the families around her had Black women working in households, cooking, cleaning, and raising their children. For instance, Kathryn Stockett wanted to focus on the relationships she cultivated with these individuals in her younger years and bring their stories to the masses.

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While Kathryn Stockett’s book is a poignant story filled with hope, the star-studded cast helped bring the characters to life in the 2011 film adaptation. 

The Help full cast is mostly women, including actresses Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. For instance they inspire us on-screen, we’re even more inspired by what these Hollywood women have accomplished off-screen since The Help’s 2011 premiere.

Before diving into The Help characters, watch the trailer here and feel ALL the feels. 

The Help Cast: Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis)

Played by the effervescent Viola Davis, Aibileen Clark is one of The Help’s main characters in the 2011 film. Aibileen is a reserved yet nurturing woman who raised over 17 white children throughout her life. Aibileen works for socialite Elizabeth Leefolt (Shane Mcrae), acting as the main caretaker for her daughter Mae Mobley. She cares deeply for Mae and almost sees her as one of her own.  Even at three years old, Mae Mobley does not fit into the society she was born into, but Aibileen is always there throughout the film to remind her of her worth. 

This line is one of the most memorable in both the film and book and is still referenced nowadays:

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Both Viola Davis’s personal and professional life tell a story of excellence, from overcoming poverty in her early life to winning an Oscar for her performance in Fences. 

It is well known that Viola Davis was hesitant to play this role. In 2011, we reported how she said to Essence “As Black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences, experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point.”

The radiant Viola Davis has stayed true to her word, creating from the worst situations and serving as Hollywood’s triple threat for almost a decade, absolutely blowing away audiences on stage, film, and television. To clarify TIME named her one of the 100 most influential people in both 2012 and 2017. 

In an emotional tribute to Viola Davis, Meryl Streep (yes, THE Meryl Streep) commended the fellow actress: 

“Viola Davis’ hard-won, midlife rise to the very top of her profession has not led her to forget the rough trip she took getting there. And that is why she embodies for all women, but especially for women of color, the high-wire rewards of hard work and a dream, risk and faith.”

Viola Davis is the first Black actress to win the triple crown (winning a Tony Award, an Emmy, and an Academy Award). She received a total of 11 nominations. Fences (the film), Fences (the stage play) How To Get Away with Murder, and King Hedley II have all won her awards. 

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In February 2021, the How To Get Away with Murder Instagram account praised Viola Davis for her 2021 NAACP Image Award Nomination:

These days, when Viola Davis isn’t slaying at the Golden Globes, she is busy filming for The Suicide Squad, set to release later this year.

Serving looks on and off-screen!

The Help Cast: Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer)

Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) truly steals the show in The Help with her witty dialogue and a wide array of facial expressions. Minny’s demeanor is fiery and quick-witted. A character that’s never afraid to speak her mind, she is a fellow maid and best friend to Aibileen.  Through their friendship, Minny is able to show her vulnerability. 

The Help’s chocolate pie scene is all thanks to Octavia Spencer

Throughout the film, Minny is in a rivalry with her racist employer, Hilly Holbrook. Hilly then fires her for using the inside bathroom during a storm. Holbrook jeopardizes Minny’s chances of finding work. Then to get even, Minny makes her one of her famous chocolate pies with a special ingredient––you’ll have to watch the film and see for yourself.

Fans took to Twitter to express their love for Minny and this iconic pie scene:

The scene is still relevant nowadays:

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the relationship between Minny and Celia Foote. When Minny begins to secretly teach Celia how to cook and clean. They develop an unexpected friendship through this commodore. Both of the characters find a strength they didn’t know they had. 

The Help cast: Octavia Spencer & Jessica Chastain 

This friendship goes far beyond the big screen. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain have nothing but love and respect for one another. According to CNBC, Jessica Chastain reached out to Octavia Spencer and discussed the pay gap in Hollywood between men and women and how to bridge that gap. Being a Black woman working in Hollywood, Octavia Spencer had some perspective to add to the discussion:

“But here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.”

Because of this conversation, Octavia Spencer was able to make five times more than her asking salary. Friendships like the one between Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer are special because they inspire change and create a dialogue around the pay gap, race, and other important issues. Octavia Spencer has voiced how appreciative she is of Jessica Chastain’s support and friendship.

This is just one example of Hollywood women coming together to make change happen for all––see more examples here.

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Help, and received nominations for her roles in the 2018 Guillermo Del Toro film The Shape of Water and for the biographical film Hidden Figures.

In 2020, Octavia Spencer plays the trail-blazing entrepreneur Madam CJ. Walker in the miniseries Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. The miniseries received great reviews and is available to watch on Netflix.

The Help Cast: Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone)

Skeeter Phelan (played by Emma Stone) is a young, white college graduate who comes back to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi after college. She is an independent thinker who has aspirations to one day become a novelist. 

Being back in her hometown opens Skeeter’s eyes to the segregation and immorality that exists within her very own culture. Her initial aspiration of writing a book shifts to an aspiration to do the right thing. Give a voice to the voiceless, despite what she may lose because of it. Lastly, Skeeter is able to gain some insight into their world and become a better person because of it. 

In a 2011 interview with Timeout MagazineEmma Stone explains:

“The story itself is what drew me to the movie more than anything. I was raised in Arizona and I went to public school, and the extent of my knowledge of the civil-rights movement was the story of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. I wonder how much my generation knows.”