“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” This defining quote of the thought provoking, critically acclaimed 2011 movie from DreamWorks The Help sums up its humanistic naturalistic theme, where even “God” is used to promote human interests and advancement. The quote is spoken several times to by the black maid Abileen to her white girl charge. The goal is the improvement of the self through belief in the self. Self-realization based on these three descriptors is the main character development thrust of the film. Abileen, played by Viola Davis, narrates the film. Although it is set up to follow the story of Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, a young aspiring journalist who looks to make her big break by exposing the daily lives of black maids in her white dominated Southern Mississippi town of Jackson, is actually just a mover and shaker that starts the self-realization process for the maids.
Skeeter is told by her mama, “Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?” In this quote the mindset, that a single girl is only worth something if she is dating, is set, against which Skeeter must struggle for the duration of the movie. She struggles to be seen as kind by the maids until Abileen decides to trust her. She struggles to be seen as smart and more than just a potential wife by her lone suitor, Stuart Whitworth, played by Chris Lowell. His attitude of single women is represented in his comment: “Isn't that what all you girls from Ole Miss major in—professional husband hunting?” She struggles to be seen as important by the New York editor with whom she desperately wants to work. Skeeter’s journey to self-realization pivots on the moment that Abileen decides to trust her. Once she is seen as kind by the maids, she can begin to show the world, and Stuart, that she is also smart as she gathers information to write her book about the help in Jackson which then leads to her work getting recognized as important by the big New York editor. The end result is the fulfillment of her life-long dream, a job in New York City. Skeeter improves herself and her community through believing in her own potential to effect change in her small town.
However, it is Abileen’s journey that is the centerpiece of the film. It is her story being told, the story of an African-American maid who is kind, smart, and important, but who must defer to white supremacist power in order to keep her job. In doing so, she buries herself. Her kindness shows in her interaction with her little white charge, a sweet child who Abileen tells over and over again: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” It is only when someone takes the time to listen to her story that she starts to believe that she is smart and important. Skeeter invites Abileen to believe in herself, and that begins a revolution that turns the town upside-down. The culmination of the film is found when Abileen refuses to be stepped on anymore and quits her job. She asks her little girl to repeat the saying and once she does one last time, Abileen walks away, to freedom. As she walks away, she narrates the ending of her story: “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinking about all the people I know. And the things I seen and done. My boy Treelore always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it's gonna be me.” She discovers her freedom and the true expression of herself by believing that she is kind, smart, and important. That mindset sums up the naturalistic thrust of the film.
Although “God” is mentioned in the film, he is seen in a negative light or used as a vehicle for driving the naturalistic evolution of the characters. He is portrayed as an impersonal, motivating idea to be used by the characters on either side in the town to achieve their own ends. Whites use the church to gain power for themselves by oppressing others. For example, one of the white ladies refuses to lend money to her maid so that her two twin sons can go to college, drawing on the ‘fact’ that Christians don’t enable others. She avoids helping her fellow human being by abusing the Scriptures, focusing on one portion to the exclusion of the others. Accordingly, Christians are not supposed to enable others, but they are supposed to aid the poor. This white woman used the Bible as a tool of oppression, a gross misuse of the words of God. In this case, the white Christians are the enemies of the maids’ naturalistic evolution of self.
However, African-American people are not portrayed in a much better light. African-Americans use the Bible as well to serve their own means, using it for empowerment instead of a means of oppression. For example, Abilene is inspired to talk to Skeeter after a talk at church about courage. Again, “God” is portrayed in a purely moral sense. Although Abileen does reference Scripture in her quote, “love your enemies,” that quote is wrapped up in a theme of self-realization. The focus quickly turns from “God” to more humanistic thinking. “God” is not intimately involved in daily life; the idea of “God” is simply a tool used by the characters for their own human betterment, whether that betterment results in oppression or in empowerment is up to the wielder of the words.
Based on the above themes, the worldview of this movie would have to be naturalism, where God is only a tool or prop to humans who are in charge of realizing their own potential, in charge of evolving to their fullest potential through believing in their own kindness, intelligence, and importance.