‘The Help’, film written by Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett, and ‘Hidden Figures’ by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder, explore themes of racism, misogyny, oppression and social class. ‘The Help’ set in Jackson Mississippi in 1962 and ‘Hidden Figures’ set in Virginia in 1961, both focus on black African American women’s social rights and expectations. With African American only perceived as ‘help’ or ‘the work’, maids, house nannies and house slaves. The film adaptations of the novels allow greater depth and understanding to life-changing pivotal moments in history based off of true stories detailing the struggles of overall acceptance. A defining similarity between both films are that they are both thought provoking and maintain the audience's interest as well as building empathy for the lead female characters and the successes, trials and tribulations that they undertake throughout the films.
Each film is intended to communicate to a mature audience, telling an important story and teaching the audience about the unacceptable racism and misogyny that were commonly seen in the 1960s. In the era it was extremely common for men to be seen in the typical important business settings with women seen as secretary or personal assistants doing the underlying support work for men. However, it was a lot more difficult for colored citizens and this is conveyed in both films. In ‘The Help’, Minny is depicted getting onto a ‘colored’ bus, using colored only toilets, visiting the colored only sections in the library, segregated pay-phones and drinking fountains. These women raise white children, we love them and they love us but they can't even use the toilets in our houses.
Each film not only has been created to tell the story but to teach audiences. In the films, Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett, Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder cleverly use the power of their narratives to teach and convey social imbalance in the 1960s. Each text has been designed to convey attention from a targeted audience, focusing on a wide demographic. More specifically high school students and older, no matter what race or country people are from these two films resonate with everyone in some way. However, targets an audience who are mature enough to handle difficult subjects such as murder, bullying, harassment and sexual assault. Audiences who do not understand these themes will not understand the complex storylines between characters. For example, in ‘The Help’ as an audience you must make judgements in response to pivotal subjects and moments in the film to piece together backline stories.
The two films have a similar story structure that the film follows, orientation, issue or problem, climax and resolution. The orientation being the opening sequence into the movie which sets up each main character. This structure allows the film’s story to flow and continue to maintain the audience’s attention. Film techniques used in the film is the main source of information used to convey the emotions, reactions and plot details. Camera angles can have a big effect on what the shot can tell the audience and how a character can be perceived. Each camera angle has been thoroughly thought out, as the camera angles can change a character's mood or perception from the audience. It is crucial for the directors to include a range of angles, visuals and different techniques to not only make the film enjoyable to watch but interesting, unique and realistic. In ‘Hidden Figure’, Katherine Noble is promoted from working as a computer to working in an office where her job is to calculate and decide on the math to get an astronaut into space. Katherine’s new role at NASA is not only a major character arc but a significant moment in NASA’s history as the first colored person invited into the building of all white men. Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder use film techniques such as using a long shot to capture Katherine’s entrance into the new building giving the audience the specific moment and reactions from the white men in the room. This technique was used to convey the importance of this moment to the audience allowing them to understand that this is a significant moment for the character, history and the films storyline. In ‘The Help’, Charlotte exiles her elderly maid Constantine out to put on a false face in front of her guests as she did not want the committee to see that Constantine is treated like family. Constantine raised Skeeter and all the children in the household. This is not only an important moment in the film but it shows the emotion felt from both Skeeter and Constantine. A pivotal shot in this scene was a tracking shot from ground-up of Constantine’s frail hands tracing over Skeeter’s height markings on the door frame, cutting from her hand on the markings to a mid-close-up of Constantine’s face. Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett use this technique to convey the heartbreak that this caused Constantine and Skeeter and relatively the betrayal on Charlotte's behalf. This scene not only was heart wrenching but captures the emotions from each character.
In similarity, both of these stories are used not only as a cinematic piece but as a reflection piece to look back on the era and realize not only how much the country has expanded their beliefs but recognizes the wrong-doings, the mistakes made and lessons learnt from them. Underlying contexts of the film are quite similar, it is clear that there are many parallel ideas explored exposing the racism that the maids are constantly faced with. A form of inequality and a major difference throughout the film between the African American women and the ‘white’ women was clothing and jewelry which was often symbolized in both movies. For an example, in ‘The Help’ the only thing that you see Minny, Aibleen and any of the help wearing is either their uniforms or neutral-colored clothes. Whereas in ‘Hidden Figures’ it is clear that color pallets are different to those with higher social level, with African American women seen wearing bright colors and ‘white’ women wearing softer more neutral colors. The styles of clothing were also different depending on race and social class level. The use of jewelry in the white-colored women’s fashion expresses level of status. The use of pearls in ‘Hidden Figures’ showcases pivotal moments for Katherine throughout stages of the film. From the start of the film Katherine is seen not wearing pearls, and is given a set of pearls as a reward from her boss later in the film.
The idea of social scrutiny and how it puts a toll on these films are significantly different yet parallel, with education being seen as either normal or obscene and characters facing different levels of problems. The women of ‘The Help’ and ‘Hidden Figures’ are struggling working for privileged white men and women who do not respect their work nor as people. This is clearly shown through actions made by characters in both films. Especially in ‘The Help’, the idea of social scrutiny is evident, with ‘white’ women who use their social class and standing in society to make their help miserable. ‘White’ women in the Jackson Mississippi had the power to not only fire their help, but their help’s husband and more to a higher degree. ‘Hidden Figures’ focusing on the long-term social cruitiny with NASA employing African American females however not allowing them to advance in their fields due to segregation and lack of notice.
Despite the differences of each character in ‘The Help’ and ‘Hidden Figures’ they all trying to fight against racial injustice in the workplace and life in all aspects. Educational standards are also commonly seen throughout both films. In ‘The Help’ low levels of education and the expectations to follow in the footsteps of family members as the help. Education is seen as non-important nor necessary as a social expectation in this film. However, in ‘Hidden Figures’ clearly education is evident from the opening sequence to the entire storyline but there are obstacles that each African American woman faces in regards to their education. With the lack of proper and fair financing for black learning institutions Mary Jackson had to petition to attend school and is granted allowance only at the night school to be considered as a NASA engineer. Katherine is clearly smarter than most of the engineers and calculator’s but it took an enormous amount of effort to be seen as an equal in the area. Education still to current date is seen as a respected concept in today’s society and during the 1960s. However, unlike current ‘white’ women were known to be wives and mothers, with most ‘white’ females in ‘The Help’ criticizing Skeeter for not having a partner and having a career goal. This shows the dynamic behavior from the upper class ‘white’ women in ‘The Help’.
Although films ‘The Help’ and ‘Hidden Figures’ share the same overall ideas and themes of racism, misogyny, oppression and social class, they both convey these themes through the hearts of cleverly written characters, which the actors portray with hurt, laughter, revenge, using the themes explored to capture the story. Similarly recurring themes become parallel which is evidently seen between the two films.