Today’s housekeepers & nannies see parallels in ‘The Help,’ set in the 1960s
Advocate is using Golden Globe-nominated flick to push for new law
BY ERICA PEARSON / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, January 15 2012, 4:00 AM
Emma Stone and Viola Davis are shown in a scene from ‘The Help.’
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark in ‘The Help.’
To New York nanny Barbara Young, “The Help” — the hit tale about black maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi — doesn’t seem like a period piece.
“I sat and I watched that movie and all I could think about was how things change and yet remain the same,” said Young, 64, of Rego Park, Queens.
“The fear that the workers had back then, fear of losing their jobs and being blacklisted and not getting another a job, and worrying about how they are going to support their families, that’s still very real,” said Young, who is black and was born in Barbados.
“The industry has changed from African-Americans to mostly immigrant women, but the dynamics are still the same.”
“The Help” movie, based on the book by Kathryn Stockett, garnered five Golden Globe nominations, including a best actress nod for Viola Davis. Her character, Aibileen, and her feisty best friend Minny risk everything to expose what their nanny and housekeeper jobs are really like — from being barred from using the family bathroom to becoming closer to kids than their actual parents are.
Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, has seen the movie three times. For her, Sunday’s Globes ceremony is an opportunity for “today’s help” to get some recognition.
She’s pushing for California to pass a law modeled after New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which went into effect in 2010.
The measure protects nannies and caregivers from harassment and makes employers pay overtime and provide one day off per week and three paid vacation days per year.
Even so, a November survey conducted by Park Slope Parents found that while Brooklyn nannies’ average hourly rate is $15, just 27% of employers said they pay overtime.
“I think the key for viewers to understand is that what Minny and Aibileen faced, those are still ongoing issues that still need to be addressed,“ Poo said.
Poo is holding a Twitter “watch party” as the Globes air on Sunday — inviting anyone moved by the movie to send tweets with the hashtag #bethehelp. Some have criticized the book and film for overly relying on a heroic white character — a budding writer who convinces Davis’ character and others to tell their stories.
But Young, who spent eight years working for an Upper West Side family but left in 2010 after her hours were cut, said the movie made her feel proud.
She was also moved to tears during a scene where a maid gets fired. Young also felt vindicated by the bond the movie shows between Aibileen and the little girl she cares for.
The discrimination the maids in “The Help” faced may not entirely be a thing of the past, said Young, but it’s much easier to speak out about it — or catch employers in the act.
“Now, we’ve got You Tube,” she laughed.