My son loves movies. We go to the theater almost once a week.
Recently, I suggested a film way outside his comfort zone: The Help. You’ve probably heard the buzz. Based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel, it’s about African-American maids in Mississippi in the 1960s and the prejudice they faced from their white employers.
It’s a disturbing, but accurate, portrayal of the mistreatment and hatred they endured for their meager wages. They were one step above slaves.
The Help shocked me when I first saw it – and I lived through the civil rights era. I knew the film would serve as a powerful history lesson for Connor, who was born in 2000. He’s always attended integrated schools and had black friends. I knew he had only a vague notion of the societal discrimination blacks faced.
“Connor, I’d like us to see The Help,” I told him a week ago.
I was expecting an “oh, Dad” roll of the eyes. Instead, he was enthusiastic.
“People at school are talking about it,” he said.
I found that encouraging – that a movie with such a serious theme was being discussed by fifth-graders.
So Connor and I went to see The Help on a Wednesday night. Only a few minutes into the film, he had his first reaction when a white homemaker made some ugly, demeaning remarks to her maid.
“That’s horrible,” he said.
Connor repeated that phrase four or five more times during the movie. He couldn’t believe that some maids had to use separate bathrooms. Or that they had to enter the house through the back door if the whites had company. Or that they had to cook, clean, buy groceries and take care of the kids.
“This is worse than I thought,” Connor said.
He and I have a ritual when a movie ends. We ask each other how he’d rate it.
“A plus-plus,” Connor said. “It should win an Oscar.”
Wow. The Help was on par with Transformers and Spiderman, which also received Connor’s top mark? Evidently.
We drove home, and Connor was still talking about The Help.
“It’s so sad,” he said.
“Yes, it is, to think how whites could treat blacks,” I said. “And it hasn’t been that long ago.”
Several times since then, Connor has mentioned the film. I’m glad, and a little surprised, that its message impacted him so much.
As parents, it’s reassuring to see our kids demonstrate a conscience and strong sense of right and wrong. Maybe they don’t remember to clean their room or finish their homework. But if they’re learning the really important stuff, we must be doing our job.
Looks for ways to both entertain and educate your kids. The right movie, for instance, can convey as many lessons as a history book.