There is a beautiful scene in the film, The Help, where Skeeter, a young, slightly naïve white girl who wants to be a ‘serious’ writer finds out whether the black domestic workers she had been courting for months will help her tell their story.
There were so many walls between them, walls of class, of poverty, of societal restrictions and most of all the wall of race in the segregated 60s of the southern States. They all knew that there would be a price to be paid if they even attempted to break them down. But the realm of unprecedented possibilities lay just outside those walls if they were willing to take the chance.
Even screening the film presents its own problems. A small number have politely told me that they did not think that it’s the kind of film they wanted to support. They had not seen the film but had heard that it was yet another film where black people are seen as victims in need of a benevolent white benefactor to save them. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. The two main black characters carry the film as women of integrity, passion, intelligence and the wherewithal to keep the project going when it seemed like it might stall.
Yet, I understand the concern. Since its inception the global film industry has woefully misrepresented the black image and it is disappointing that other inspirational films, with black people on a more equal footing with their white counterparts, do not get the worldwide distribution they deserve.
I am amazed, though, that anyone could watch either of these two women and just see a black maid. I saw faith, wisdom, courage, persistence. I saw the kind of virtues that my mother, my sisters, my grandmother and many of those who came before them exemplified. I saw the kind of role model I hope to one day be. I understand the implications of their profession, what it represented and why it is difficult to see it shown to us again and again on screen. But I also saw something in them of greater importance and more lasting value.
Let me confess further that the person I most closely resonated with in the film was Skeeter. Not because I am not fiercely proud of my black heritage and culture, but because like her, I understand only too keenly that I have the privilege of taking the stand that I do, the risks that I dare and the liberty I enjoy because of the wisdom, love, encouragement, support, sacrifice and example of faith shown by the amazing black women who went before me.
It is because of them that I am determined to break down the walls that so easily encircle us, following in the footsteps of great men such as Martin Luther King Jr who followed the One who Himself broke down the walls that divide us. I am convinced that beyond these walls lie a realm of unprecedented possibilities.
A special preview screening of The Help takes place at the Coronet Cinema Notting Hill on Saturday 22 October. Post-screening discussion with Dame Sybil Phoenix, the daughter of a Guyanese slave and first black British woman to win an MBE, Jenny Lee, director of the I Will Tell film festival and Rosemary Laryea voted best female presenter on colorful radio. Tickets are only ₤5. Book yours now to join the conversation and help us to break down the walls!