On the scene: ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ talkback with ‘The Help’ author Kathryn Stockett
Kathryn Stockett does not want her best-selling novel The Help to be adapted for Broadway. She shot down the notion during a post-show talkback at Driving Miss Daisy Wednesday night, citing playwright Alfred Uhry’s talents as a reason. “He knows how to say a lot in very few words, and I don’t. I would hate to be the one to write that adaptation,” Stockett said, noting the thickness of her novel. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, who served as moderator, asked Stockett if she would like to see The Help on Broadway if she wasn’t charged with adapting it. Stockett wittingly replied, “I don’t think so. I’m a little tired of the story.”
The Jackson, Mississippi native cited Uhry’s play as inspiration for her massively successful debut novel about the relationships between Southern black maids and their white employers during the Civil Rights Movement. “When I went backstage, James Earl Jones asked me if I copied the dialect [for The Help] and I said, ‘I sure did,’” Stockett said. “Uhry has an amazing way of capturing the turn of a word on paper. Writing it out the way it sounds in the ear. I absolutely read the play back and forth just to her the musicality of the dialogue.”
Stockett noted that the dialect is crucial in both Daisy and The Help and that she drew from the southern environment where she was raised. Revealing a parallel between The Help and her own life, Stockett said she idolized her family’s housekeeper and tried to mimic her “chocolatey, rich” voice. “I would try to imitate the way she talked and, of course, my parents would get very upset that this little white girl was trying to talk like a black person,” Stocket said. “When I was 30 and wanted to put those voices on the page [for The Help], of course I felt very conflicted, like I was doing something wrong. All those voices from my parents were coming back to me.”
Despite drastically changed social landscapes in other parts of the country, Stockett said she witnessed racism growing up in 1980s Mississippi. “I wrote a book that takes place in the 60s. People ask me how I knew what it was like then if I wasn’t born yet. And you know, I’m not that old. I tell them that not that much had changed in Mississippi by 1980. It’s very slow moving there and I think it’s still going on a lot.”
Because of her Southern upbringing, Daisy’s themes struck a chord with Stockett. “The play reminded me of all the intimate conversations that were going on in America during the past hundred years that people don’t talk about,” Stockett said. “These close-knit conversations that went on in kitchens and in homes around America. But this play really reminded me of the friendships that my family had that no one really pointed out. Just like Hoke says, he didn’t want to be seen as someone that crossed over that line. It was a nice trip back in time for me.”
The film version of The Help is set for an August release. Stockett spilled few details on the movie. She has seen it (she says it’s “beautiful”), and says it is currently in the sound mixing stage. The director, Tate Taylor, is a childhood friend whom Stockett handed over the film rights to, even though he had never made a movie. She sited her own repeated rejections and subsequent success as the reason for her trust. “I got 60-plus rejections for The Help—letter after letter telling me everything from, ‘This will never work,’ to, ‘Please, don’t write us again,’” Stockett said. She said Taylor experienced the same closed doors while shopping the film version, until one surprising moment. “One day, he got a phone call and it was Steven Spielberg. He said, ‘Let’s make a movie.’”
Produced by DreamWorks Pictures, the cast includes Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson. After gushing about her impressive cast, Stockett deadpanned, “I didn’t get a part.”
Do you see the parallels between Driving Miss Daisy and The Help, Rushers? What did you think about what Kathryn Stockett had to say about the play and writing a novel about Southern racism? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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I didn’t realize this novel was getting so much press. I heard about it while talking to friends of friends a few months ago, but I didn’t realize it’s going to be made into a movie as well. Maybe I’ll bump it a little higher in my list of books to read so I can have a proper opinion about the parallels between Driving Miss Daisy and The Help. Thanks for the food for thought.
I take issue with the statement that not much had changed in the way of race relations in Mississippi by 1980. If I look at the Jackson of today, I find it unrecognizable …. in a GOOD way…. from that same city of the 1960s. Seeds of change were planted there in great numbers during the days of the civil rights movement, and they have produced viable, lasting fruit.