(M) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard

Can individuals make a difference? Can society be changed? Can laws be repealed and attitudes challenged — and overturned?

Creating affirmative action to change our world has seemed a virtual impossibility to many of us. So it’s valuable when a film inspires us to try irrespective of obstacles or threats.

Involving, moving and ultimately rousing, The Help is a potent, exceptional drama which should have hardened cynics admitting that one movie can actually compel viewers to speak out against injustice, bigotry or religious hypocrisy.

Based on author Kathryn Stockett’s successful novel of the same name, The Help is a superb demonstration of how people, in small yet significant ways, can take on the prevailing system of their times.

In the racially segregated 1960s American Deep South, Aibileen Clark (Oscar-nominated Viola Davis) is an African-American maid whose life has been dedicated to looking after the homes and children of affluent white people.

Trying to break into a career in journalism, young, white, “Skeeter” Phelan (rising star Emma Stone) approaches the resilient yet aggrieved Aibileen for assistance with writing a newspaper column about domestic advice.

Amid a close-knit community surging with gossip and segmentation, Skeeter decides to document the anecdotes and insights of Aibileen and her fellow African-American maids, to produce a book from the perspective of “the help”. Such an activity is considered illegal and akin to social treason, setting up this bittersweet study (which is often surprisingly funny) to demonstrate how people can accidentally find themselves lobbying for enormous change — no matter what the cost.

While viewers might struggle to get their heads around just how vast the gulf was between white and black members of this politely demarcated society, the evolution of Skeeter and Aibileen’s collaboration is surrounded by characters and situations which vividly represent the tinderbox times.

Bryce Dallas Howard’s shocking role as prejudiced socialite Hilly is a horrifying portrait of justified racism. This proudly “Christian” leader somehow founds her intolerance upon the same God as Aibileen worships in humility and servitude.

The damning yet poignant contrast between Aibileen’s reliance upon God’s sovereignty and His promise to deliver ultimate justice to our sinful world, and Hilly’s arrogant misappropriation of Biblical teaching, is just one salient salvo in a heartfelt film guaranteed to dethrone your apathy about social ills.

Ben McEachen

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