The story of African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi, daring to share their stories on the eve of the 1960s civil rights era is exquisitely drawn in its historical specifics. Yet the more specific a tale is, the more universal it becomes.
The book and film both shine compassionate light on the trials and struggles of these women, whose experience has never before been fully explored in popular media. Unless you’re one of the privileged Southern belle employers, depicted with more than a touch of sweet tea venom in the film, you’re going to be rooting for the maids.
Anyone who has endured culturally institutionalized discrimination because of race, class, religion or sexuality can identify with these women’s fear, pain, and humiliation — and the ultimate liberation that comes from breaking their silence.
Sockett’s book has generated its share of criticism, primarily for the fact that a white writer would have the temerity to write a book about black women, from their point of view.
But as actress Octavia Spencer (who steals the film as the outspoken Minny) tells Entertainment Weekly, “I don’t think that you need to be a black writer or a white writer or an Asian writer to tell a story. I just think you need to be a good storyteller.”
In the same way, the groundbreaking gay classic Brokeback Mountain was no less of a masterpiece because it was written, directed and performed by a team of supremely talented heterosexuals. The bigger issue is compassion — on which all great art thrives.