‘The Help’ director Tate Taylor honored his childhood maid with a role in his blockbuster film.
Tate produced, directed and wrote the screenplay adaptation for The Help. The 42-year-old Jackson, Mississippi, native knows how close to home the fictional stories in the film can hit because his family hired an African-American woman who helped raise him.
Unlike some of the White characters portrayed in The Help, as an adult Tate is showing much love to his caregiver Carol Lee (pictured, right). First, he gave her a role in the film. Then, he hooked her up with not one, but two easy-to-remember lines that would garner her a bigger paycheck. Of course, Tate’s kindness didn’t stop Carol Lee from telling lead actresses Viola Davis (Aibileen) and Octavia Spencer (Minny) stories about the spankings she gave Tate when he was a kid. “She loves to tell those stories,” Tate said.
If you have seen the film, Carol Lee was the first maid who spoke up when Skeeter (Emma Stone) walked into Aibileen’s living room filled with maids ready to tell their stories. She speaks up again in the church scene to tell Aibileen, “We’re clapping for you.”
Tate talked about the special bond that he has with Carol Lee after a screening for The Help in Philadelphia at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. Tate believes that the bond between a White baby and a Black caregiver is no more unique than the bond that a child of any race would have with a caregiver who isn’t the biologicial mother.
“What I think is great about a relationship that a child has with someone else who is not their mom—whether it be an aunt, a grandmother, whether it be your mom’s best friend or a domestic—there’s a special bond because you get to be really real with them. It’s like you have a special friend,” Tate explained. He went on to describe his bond with Carol Lee.
“She [Carol Lee] was a friend and she looked out for me and she gave me the cheat sheet to my mom: don’t do this and don’t do that. She was that special mentor in my life. It didn’t matter her color,” he said. “She was [a] person who cared about me and loved me and was not my mom.” Tate believes that caregivers who are not the child’s parent have a special ability to share the truth without jeopardizing their parenting skills.
This easily relatable type of relationship does not play out in the film, probably because of the Jim Crow laws that make it illegal for White families to fully embrace Black people as family members or equals. However, it is a pleasant reminder that The Help is a work of fiction, not a documentary about the bond between Black maids in Mississippi and the White families they served. Tate and Carol Lee’s story definitely foreshadows a happy ending for their families.
—Sabrina M. Parker