Hundreds of curious onlookers and paying fans gathered to see “The Help” on Saturday, the story of a budding white journalist (Emma Stone) fresh out of Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) in the early 1960s who convinces black maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to risk their jobs and lives to give her a first-person account of domestic service.
Karen Evers was one of the fans who gladly handed over $100 for a ticket to Saturday’s benefit showing of “The Help” at the Malco Grandview theater in Madison, Miss.
The No. 1 New York Times best-seller by the same name was, in some ways, the University of Mississippi graduate’s story, too.
“We had help,” Evers, 49, said of growing up with a family maid in northeast Jackson. “We called her Jenny. She died of a stroke.”
“And it wasn’t until my adult years that I realized that not only was I grieving for my father, who had died, but for my help.”
More than $150,000 raised from ticket sales — the highest at $500 — benefits Baptist Town Community Development, said Bill Crump, a Baptist Town board member .
Baptist Town Community Development revitalizes the 100-year-old African-American neighborhood in Greenwood, Miss., known as Baptist Town. It was the setting for some scenes from “The Help.”
Kasie Wood, 28, of Columbus, Miss., brought friend Sarah Lambert, 29, of Jackson, Miss., to stand with her, camera in hand, just feet from the red carpet.
“We’re excited about Emma,” Lambert said of Stone, who plays heroine Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. She enjoyed watching Stone as the female lead in “Easy A.”
“Many times,” Lambert said. “And ‘The House Bunny,’ and I’ve seen ‘Superbad.’”
She’s read the book by Jackson native Kathryn Stockett, a story praised for its candid portrayal of race relations during the civil rights era, but panned by some as resurrecting painful memories.
Many brought copies of the book in hopes of snagging autographs from the cast of the movie filmed both in Jackson and Greenwood.
They included Alfred Luckett, 45, a Jackson resident who snagged a part as an extra during filming in the city’s historic Fondren neighborhood. “I was a service station attendant. I did the windshields. I hope I’m not on the cutting room floor.”
Stone and most of the movie’s cast, save Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the cruel socialite Hilly, and Sissy Spacek, in the role of Hilly’s ditzy, outspoken mother, attended the premiere in which about 1,110 fans and members of the media got a first look at “The Help.”
Actors spoke frankly of the movie in which the characters both challenged and clung to racist societal norms.
“It’s so hard for me to imagine living then,” Stone said.
But if she had, could she have mustered Skeeter’s courage?
“I’d like to know that I’d have that kind of bravery … I’d like to say I would, but I don’t know,” Stone said.
Said Davis: “I don’t feel very courageous in my life. … To me, I prefer the reluctant hero.”
Allison Janney, who as Skeeter’s mother Charlotte is hellbent on getting her daughter married, enjoyed playing :someone who’s a little obsessed.”
“I was intimidated by what Charlotte did,” Janney said. “I can’t imagine doing the same things she did — but I can understand the peer pressure.”
Before the screening, producer Chris Columbus reminded fans of the day’s purpose: raising money for a good cause.
“Guys, you made a dream come true today,” he said. “Thank you so much. We love you.”