“Helping hands get things done. Half the effort. Twice the fun.”

Sure, it’s a saying that’s as old as the hills, but it still remains true. Especially in the case of DreamWorks Pictures’ newest message movie, The Help. Releasing wide in theaters on Wednesday, August 10, 2011, the star-studded film is based on the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name by first-time author Kathryn Stockett.

But even before the novel that is now beloved by book clubs the world over had even hit the shelves, many hands were already at work to get this story of societal change during the civil rights era—by way of a young college graduate who secretly writes a tell-all book from the perspectives of black housekeepers working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi—to the big screen.

Home Is Where the Story Is

Stockett, who grew up in Jackson and was inspired by her own upbringing and relationship with her family maid in the 1970s, took five years to write the novel. She began right after 9/11 while she was still living in New York City, where she had worked in magazine publishing and marketing for sixteen years.

A work she calls “fiction, by and large,” The Help almost didn’t see the light of literary day as at one point Stockett was close to giving up. So she sent the unfinished manuscript to childhood friend Tate Taylor (Winter’s Bone), an actor, director and screenwriter now working in Hollywood, who still had a lot of southern sensibilities left in him.   

“It was June of 2008,” Taylor remembers after he had read the story and then acquired the film rights with Stockett’s blessing. “I began adapting The Help and that was a year before it was even in print. And then here we are three years later, and the movie’s done. That never happens.”

Set in the early 1960s, The Help draws back the curtain to show the complex relationships between black housekeepers and the white women who employ them to manage their households and raise their children.

“These women would not be allies at the time for reasons of race and class,” Taylor explains of the characters in the book and now in the film. “It’s easy to be quiet. You think that there is no benefit from speaking up, or maybe you are just lazy and want to go with the status quo. But I think that what this book shows people, and I hope the movie will show people, is that the smallest thing can affect change.”

And They Told Two Friends …

Producer Michael Barnathan (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) adds that Taylor rightly describes The Help as “an inside story.”