With “The Help” now being one of the Oscar contenders, I confess I only recently caught up with this highly successful phenomenon.  I was certainly not one of those who contributed to its being on the New York Times best seller list for more than 100 weeks!  Having grown up under the egregious apartheid system in South Africa, I didn’t think I had the stomach to read a book so grounded in the racial conflicts of the 1960’s Deep South, much less see the film, and I resisted both for the longest time.  My niece and sister eventually persuaded me to give it a chance (they, after all, had also experienced that egregious system), and I downloaded it from the library onto my Kindle. I have to say I was moved by it.  I can’t gauge how authentic the voices of Aibileen and Minny truly are, but they seemed very evocative to me, and, even though some of the characters and plot devices were a little overblown (Hilly and the pie episode, for instance), most of it felt plausible – particularly in the way things were not neatly wrapped up in the end.  I can well understand how “The Help” may stir up unwelcome feelings (as elements in the book did in me), and there is the raging debate about stereotyping swirling around the actors, but it has to be commended, at the very least, for igniting a conversation about these difficult racial issues, which have still not been fully resolved today.  Let’s hope the conversation continues in the context of the Oscar buzz—and beyond.

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