It’s little surprise that The Help, one of last year’s biggest box-office draws, is now gaining loads of Oscar buzz. The film is a contender for several categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
The Help follows the struggles of two black maids—Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer)—during the Civil Rights era in Jackson, Miss. They are the subject of a controversial book that describes from their point-of-view the racism they face from white employers.
Based on the bestselling book by Kathryn Stockett, the film earned more than $200 million from a relatively small $25 million budget.
The Daily Beast caught up with stars Davis and Spencer, director Tate Taylor, author Kathryn Stockett, and producers Chris Columbus and Brunson Green who breakdown some of the film’s most memorable scenes and give some insights into the making of the film.
The conversation begins with here with the scene where Aibileen rushes home after Civil Rights icon Medgar Evers gets shot.
Viola Davis: We shot it at, what, one o’clock or midnight, Tate?
Tate Taylor: That was a very long and tragic day for the Aibileen character. That same day you were told to hurry up when you were in the bathroom. What’s great about us shooting it at night was that Aibileen is really at her wit’s end and exhausted, and you were, too!
Viola: I felt like that scene represented something that you don’t see in cinema—the everyday fear that people had. Oftentimes, when you see the Civil Rights era onscreen, people are being whipped and killed, but it’s the everyday—you’re going home, you’re tired and on the bus, and all of a sudden something happens that could be life-threatening. Then, as soon as it’s over, you’re back to your life again. It’s the everyday fear you have to live with. It woke Minny and Aibileen up to the fact that they were risking their lives writing this book.
Taylor: What I really, really loved about the Medgar Evers storyline and backdrop was that he was in their neighborhood. While they were doing this clandestine project, this Civil Rights leader who’s their neighbor gets murdered, and their characters are wondering, “What’s going to happen to us?”
Kathryn Stockett: It was very important for me—and for Tate—to not make this into a Civil Rights piece, but they were being infiltrated and hunted down for their color. So when that bus driver agrees to drive the white people to their destination but tells the black people to get the fuck off, he’s reminding people of the rules. I think it also makes the audience very protective of Aibileen when she’s running through the dark like that. It hurts watching it!
Brunson Green: One thing that Tate wanted to make sure of was that kids under age 30 don’t really have any idea of where the Civil Rights movement was at its most violent and Jackson, Mississippi, was right in the middle of it. So it shows that for the women, writing this book is putting them in a life-threatening situation without beating it over our heads and having a noose in the tree.