Saturday, January 8, 2011

How The Help Helped Me

I recently finished The Help, Kathyrn Stockett's best-selling novel about white women and their domestic help in the 1960's. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, the novel travels between the voices of Miss Skeeter, a recent Ole Miss graduate who feels out of place in her hometown, Aibileen, a woman known for her work with children and her prayer list, and Minny, a woman renown for both her sass and her cooking. The novel tells the interlacing story of these three women's lives and their plot to publish a book telling the truth about being being a maid in the South. Having been on my reading list for a while, I finally got around to cracking the spine of what has been one of this year's most talked about books.

I have already started casting the movie. For one thing, the book is clearly a ladies' piece, a sort of continuation on the idea behind Clare Boothe Luce's The Women (don't worry my movie will be more like the landmark original movie as opposed to the lacking Meg Ryan remake). With lots of character roles, cameos, and an undoubtedly big budget (it is a best seller), this tentative movie (I am sure there is one in the works) is a sure hit. In the wake of Eat Pray Love, Sex & the City, Twilight, and The Secret Life of Bees, this movie is fodder for a market that is ready to be tapped (book clubs embrace yourselves). As with all things popular and African-American in today's film world, I am sure Oprah and Tyler Perry will need to be involved. Let's just hope it's solely on a monetary or publicity basis (a la Precious, not For Colored Girls). However, now that I think about it, the big O herself might make a wonderful Aibileen and would surely fill seats, though my first choice would probably be Viola Davis. On the other hand, maybe this could be a proper vehicle for Queen Latifah (please, someone, stop her from making any more movies like The Holiday, Taxi Cab, or Just Wright). For some cameos as the older white ladies, Mrs. Walters and Mrs. Phelan, perhaps we might see some of my favorites like Cloris Leechman, Betty White, Shirley Maclaine, Vanessa Redgrave (as she is so enjoying her current turn as an old Southern gal in the current revival of Driving Miss Daisy), or my personal favorite Elaine Stritch. I would love just to get a glimpse of that bunch lined up in the audition room. Moreover, I think we have to include Cicely Tyson. After playing the 100-year-old ex-slave in Miss Jane Pittman, this would only be too appropriate since she is now 100 (OK, not quite). For Minny, I am initially thinking pre-Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson or Gabourey Sidiee. Of course, this would be a great opportunity for an unknown, the next Gabourey Sidibe. I am finding the young white ladies a little harder to cast. For evil Hilly, I am thinking Kirsten Dunst, but is she too old? I fear I may have to resort to one of my Gossip Girl co-stars like Leighton Meester, Taylor Mumsen, or Blake Lively to fill those roles (depending on when we get started on this project, someone call me NOW). Come to think, wouldn't that plotting nasty Juliet, played by Katie Cassidy (so venomous, who would think she is David Cassidy's son, I mean daughter), be a most nasty Miss Hilly? If Blake Lively is involved, I think it is required she either get beat up (not in the book) or have to use very long, well enunciated sentences. Something awful. Even if she's not Miss Hilly, I want her to eat that shit pie. She's 23! For Christ's Sake, how she is famous, and not me! How is she on the cover of Vogue, how has she hosted SNL?!? DO YOU KNOW HOW FUCKING FUNNY I CAN BE, LORNE MICHAELS???

Hhhhhhh. (As Susan Lori-Parks would write, that indicates a vocalized breath and a long pause).

In the perfect cameo role as Ms. Steinn, the editor form Harper & Rowe whom a very foolish Miss Skeeter corresponds with, who else but Janeane Garofalo! Just imagine, the smoke, the New York attitude, all that black! If she's not available, I am sure we could Diane Keaton, Parker Posey, Marcia Gay Harder, or even, Ms. Meryl Streep. And I don't care who Patrick Wilson plays, if I am making this movie, I want him in it. And Patricia Clarkson. That woman just begs for an all-star female cast. I know! Stuart's mother, the Governor's wife, Mrs. Willworth. She works three or four days, kills one scene, and is in the movie. Now directors and writers. Keep Tyler Perry away! Perhaps someone like Susan-Lori or Lynn Nottage or even Nancy Meyers, but not him! I am one of five people that actually saw both Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too? By the end, it was just unintelligible screaming and pretty scenery. The Help begs for a hand adept at a mix of comedy and drama, laughter and tears, not the usual melodramatic fare Mr. Perry dishes (and apparently dishes to little boys on the side - allegedly!). How about that girl that directed this year's The Kids Are All Right? What is her name . . .

In researching for this post, I have just discovered there is already a film set to open this year. So much for being on the cutting edge. They've chosen Emma Stone as Miss Skeeter - fabulous! How is she off my radar? I loved her in Easy A. Did you? And you know what, I called both Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson's involvement in the picture. Called it! The rest of the cast list reads a little off from my predictions, but wasn't that fun? I suppose my movie does indeed have a bigger budget, not to mention a starry finish.

In addition to film aspirations, The Help also has me cooking. There are so many references to butter beans, ham somethings, and time spent in the kitchen, that it had me itching to return to domesticity, a reminder of my moonlighting stints as a cook/caretaker. In true hospitable fashion, I had a group of very dear friends over for a Southern feast: 3 Meat Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Gravy, Collard Greens, Butter Beans, Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipe follows), and Pecan Pie. Mmmm. We ate ourselves up to the gills then thanked the Lord it wasn't bathing suit season. It felt good to spend some time alone in my kitchen, sweating and stirring, making sure that I still had it in me. I don't go to therapy, I cook and eat.

More than cooking, this book has me thinking. A young woman from the South, feeling out of place, dreaming of New York. Sound familiar? I have been working to refuel my ambition, to remember why I cam here, to finally fucking move on. I am ready for adventure, for danger, to take a chance; I am hungry for more. After letting myself lie complacent and lazy, a little depressed (and understandably so), it's time to get myself out of the house and back in the game, to recapture the hunger and ambition that drove me all through high school and college. True, there is no gold star or A on my report card to work towards, but instead a feeling of accomplishment and personal fulfillment. In the book, Skeeter discovers a passion in herself, as do Aibileen and Minny, a voice desperate to be heard. It's time I start making a little more noise. Where exactly I want to go, I am not totally sure, but isn't the journey and not the destination that's important anyway? For now, I am pushing myself to get blogging, to start singing again, to go back on the audition trail, and focus my energies outside of my apartment and cozy Astoria. I have been reading a lot of celeb bios lately, tales of the long, hard, and determined journey it is to be a performer, or any artist for that matter. If there is one thing I have gleaned, it's that breaks don't just happen, but rather come from a concerted, almost maniacal effort to succeed. So for now, I'm a maniac. A maniac with a newfound subscription to Netflix that is changing my life. If anything, my artistic quest has just begun. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mama Dip's Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (boil two medium sized sweet potatoes, cool, peel, and mash - or use canned)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 1/2 cups room temperature milk
4 cups self-rising flour
Pinch Baking soda
3 TB sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the sweet potatoes, milk, and butter using a pastry blender or fork until mixture is smooth. Slowly, stir in dry ingredients until a dough is formed. Place dough on well-floured board or counter mat and knead 8-10 times (dough will be very light and fragile). Roll out 1-inch thick and cut with floured 2-inch biscuit cutter or a highball glass. Bake in a greased baking pan for 15-20 minutes until bottoms are brown and biscuits (biscuit tops will not change color much). Serve warm with butter, honey, or jam. The best way to get your vegetables since Carrot Cake.

What I'm Reading: Patti Lupone: A Memoir

What I'm Watching: Rosemary's Baby, The Runaways, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Rabbit Hole

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