5 reasons ‘The Help’ swept the SAGs, and must sweep the Oscars (and yes, I know you haven’t watched it)

by Emmanuel Osanedum

The Help, described severally as a movie about the treatment of maids in a Mississippi town during the civil rights era, was big winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night. making it the movie to watch as the Oscar awards approach next month.

Hollywood veteran Viola Davies won for Best Actress; Octavia Spence won for Best Supporting Actress, and the movie won for Best Cast Ensemble.

Unfortunately, the film didn’t spend too long in Nigeria as the audience evidently didn’t warm to it. It’s enough to make one wonder. Anyway, by the time the hype intensified, the movie had left our shores.

So in case you wondered why it swept the SAG Awards and why it’s set to sweep the Oscars, and why you should get a copy (I’m not saying you should get the bootlegged version on the streets of Lagos, but, well…), here it is!

1. For Viola Davis, it’s about time

Davis has never been in more than four scenes at anytime in the movies of mainstream Hollywood, which is a crying shame. In the past two years, her solid credits have included with Meryl Streep for Doubt, with Jamie Foxx for Law Abiding Citizen, and with Russell Crowe for State of Play. In each of these movies she has shone – and she brings that spectacular elegance and sheer acting superiority to her role as Maybelline in The Help. In a way her role in the movie as an under-appreciated workhorse and force whose time finally arrives mirrors her role in the movie industry over the years. It is a fitting coronation for one of Hollywood’s most underrated – and you could see it in SAG standing ovation and the universal deference.

2. Great lines

There are very few movies with scriptwriting where every line rings of beauty and poetry. This is one of them. It’s not even about the cleverness and depth of the lines as much as the fact of timing and reserve. Even when Davis says “You are wicked woman”, the line is beautifully delivered, in the exact proportion to the moment, and altogether fitting with the trajectory of the movie.  Sheer perfection.

Davies and Spencer in

3. Who needs the A-list?

There are times when Hollywood believes it needs an overdose of its hand-picked royalty to make a movie a success. Personally I have always found this unnecessary. As you might noticed, no matter how terrible a script is, one Meryl Streep can lift it out of its doldrums – no further stars needed. The bravery of this movie, in going out of its way to find scene stealers like Spencer and Stone and Chastain, is admirable – it presented to us a new galaxy of stars that hopefully won’t go away, and proved to us that the elements that make a fine film yet remain – a solid script, solid acting and a heart that’s in the right place. And am I glad audiences approved!

4. The finest acting you can find

Everyone from Octavia Spence to Emma Stone came to this movie equipped with an acting that shone brighter than the stars. And of course there’s Cicely Tyson, Hollywood dame, whose acting genius and relative under-appreciation mirror that of Davis – and whose turn as Constantine captured excellently the paradox of the intense humility of her circumstance and her yet towering higher than her employers. The Help’s continuous sweeping of awards for Best Cast and Best Ensemble makes this point best. It presented to us acting that was nothing short of constantly delicious.

Cicely in

5. It’s inspiring, period.

Forget whatever the Association of Black Women Historians (God bless ‘em) or other anal-retentive critics say – you finish this film, and you feel like you have wings to fly. It gives unique insight into the issues that defined slavery and the civil rights era, without making anyone uncomfortable and with an elegance finely captured by its cast. This storyline presented the realities, the hate and the courage that defined the era, without the heavy-handedness of message films. I left the cinema in tears. Twice. My soul was uplifted, my thoughts were provoked, my heart ultimately in joy. It is a reminder of the sheer beauty of a soul that refuses to be defeated.

The Help is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Without any doubt in my mind, it should win all three. I love you Meryl, but this one belongs to Viola (and of course I’ll have to slit my wrists if Dragon Tattoo’s Mara takes it).



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