The Truth Shall Set You Free
DreamWorks’ movie The Help begins and ends with a picture of Jesus Christ. In the opening scene a picture of Jesus hangs on Aibileen’s wall above the photograph of her dead son Treelore. At the movie’s conclusion a picture of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms is on Aibileen’s cardboard fan. These two pictures bracket the film like exclamation points saying “pay attention to this”. The Help is a portrait of Jesus Christ where every word in every scene becomes a line on his face.
The setting for The Help is Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960’s; that is as far as time and place go. A more accurate description might be a segregated world, one not just divided by race but equally divided by wealth, gender, and social status. Jackson is a hierarchical world structured like a pyramid. There are a few “somebodies” at the top with their loyal followers and together they rule over the vast majority of “nobodies” at the bottom.
This is a world of bondage, where fear and control powerfully operate to keep everyone in their place.If pictures of the Israelites in Egyptian captivity come to mind it is not accidental. Early in the movie the book of Exodus is quoted to help the audience make this association.1
Two women, very different from each other, are raised up from the bottom of their respective worlds to unite and bring deliverance to many.
Skeeter, a young white woman raised by a black maid wants to be a writer. In New York this might be celebrated but in the early 60’s in Jackson it is opposed by societal forces of gender and class that prescribe what women can and ought to do. Aibileen, an older black maid raising a white child wants to honor the memory of her dead son by writing her stories. Together Skeeter and Aibileen are propelled forward by a search for truth, sacrificial love, and worldly events to cross a threshold and enter each other’s world. The white woman steps into the black woman’s home to sit down for tea, crossing a line neither has ever crossed before. The white woman who has always done the talking chooses to listen while the black woman risks everything to speak. Their connection and the crossing of forbidden boundaries release powerful forces that break like a storm over Jackson.
Each of the main characters is thrown into an ordeal where waves of truth wash over them, forcing them to see things in a whole new light. Aibileen sees the bitter seed planted in her by the brutal death of her son and is able to share it with a white person. Skeeter learns the truth about “white laws” and her mother’s shameful treatment of their maid Constantine. Minny is forced to see that all white people are not as evil as she has perceived them to be. Celia finds unlikely support in Minny; someone who will tell her the truth about why she is a social outcast.
In John 8:32 Jesus says “and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Aibileen and Skeeter, helped by Minny, have collected the true testimonies of those at the lowest rung of Jackson’s ladder. They have given a voice to those who have long been denied one. When the book The Help hits the stores in Jackson it is “scandalous” to some but freedom to those who have never spoken before. As Aibileen says, “no one had ever asked me what it was like to be me. Once I told the truth I felt free”.
Freedom brings a whole new life. Aibileen having found her voice dies to her old life of maid and is raised to a new one inspired by prophetic words from Treelore. Skeeter is set free to follow her heart’s desire and move to New York to become a writer. Minny is freed from Leroy’s brutality. She is welcomed to a white person’s banquet table and given a job for life. With the writing of one check to “Two Slice Hilly” Celia is set free from trying to be accepted by Jackson society.
The film never resolves what happens when truth confronts those at the top of Jackson’s pyramid. They are left standing in shock and anger as truth exposes their sin filled lives and shreds their hypocritical masks.
The movie The Help is an Exodus story; those in bondage are led by a deliverer out of captivity into freedom. The true Exodus story of Moses and the Israelites is typological; it looks forward to the Deliverer Jesus Christ who would come to rescue people from the real bondage to sin, Satan and death. The pictures on the wall in the beginning show the sacrificial Jesus. Treelore is a lamb slain just like The Lamb of God. The picture at the end shows Jesus, The Good Shepherd, holding a lamb in his arms with a lantern next to him. He is The Light that has come into the darkness to gather his flock and bring them through death into resurrection life in the new creation.
Note 1: Exodus 4:10