Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s a woman who just finished college comes back and gets black maids to tell her about their experiences for a novel she writes.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) while working in a kitchen is telling Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) about her life as a maid raising kids. She picks up a little girl Mae Mobley (Eleanor Henry), puts her on her lap, and tells her that she is kind, smart, and important. She does the housework and makes $182 a month. Mostly she takes care of the baby girl.
Aibileen says that Skeeter has no man and no babies. Skeeter drives into Jackson and goes into the office of the Jackson Journal and talks to the editor about a writing job. He looks at her resumé and is impressed, asking if she ever has fun. He says that her reference is a rejection letter. Skeeter says that Miss Stein wrote that she would give her a job after she gained experience. The editor asks her if she cleans. He gives her Miss Myrna’s cleaning advice columns and tells her to read them and write her weekly column by Thursday.
Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) was the first in her group to have a baby, and then those in her bridge club had them too. The maid Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) helps takes care of Missus Walters (Sissy Spacek) as well as Hilly’s house and child.
Aibileen bribes the baby girl to tinkle in the toilet. Aibileen and Minny talk in the kitchen and laugh about Elizabeth Leefolt and her hairspray. Skeeter arrives, and the other women scream in joy to see her. She says college took her four years. Hilly tells her that Stuart had to cancel again, and Skeeter tells her to forget it. She tells them that she got a job at the Jackson Journal. She asks Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) if she can have Aibileen help her with her column.
Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) calls and tells Aibileen she needs a maid. Elizabeth tells Hilly that Celia called and says she never answers her calls. Hilly says some people just don’t get the message. She says they are not telling Celia about the benefit, and they laugh. Hilly and Elizabeth talk about Aibileen using their guest bathrooms. Hilly advises her to have her husband put in a bathroom for the maid because they carry different diseases; he will get his money back when he sells. Hilly says she has drafted an initiative requiring all white homes to have a separate bathroom for the colored help, and she says the White Citizens Council has endorsed it.
Skeeter asks Aibileen if she would help her with the cleaning column, and Aibileen says that Myrna often gets it wrong, and she would like to help her get it right. Skeeter misses her maid Constantine and says she quit. She asks Aibileen if she has heard from her. Elizabeth tells Skeeter that Hilly wants her to put her initiative in their newsletter.
Skeeter comes home and finds her mother Charlotte Phelan (Allison Janney) trying on a whig. Skeeter does not like it, and Charlotte takes it off and puts on another that Skeeter approves. Skeeter asks what happened with Constantine. Her mother takes off her dress and tries it on Skeeter. She says she could take it in for her. Skeeter says she got the writing job. Charlotte complains that Skeeter is still single. She asks if she is unbalanced with unnatural thoughts. She asks if she finds men attractive, or does she have unnatural thoughts about women. Skeeter says she does not want to be with a woman any more than her mother would want their colored servant.
At the dinner table Skeeter asks her father what happened to Constantine, and he says she went to Chicago to live with her family. Skeeter says she does not believe him because she would have written to her. She asks if they fired her, and Charlotte admits she did. Skeeter says she raised her from a baby. Skeeter goes out in the yard and looks at a bench under a tree and remembers when Constantine Jefferson (Cicely Tyson) came and talked with her. Skeeter says she is ugly, but Constantine says feeling sorry for yourself is ugly. She advises her to wake up and make decisions not to believe all the bad things fools say about her. She says that her mama did not pick her life. Constantine says that Skeeter can do something big with her life.
Skeeter is on the phone with Miss Stein (Mary Steenburgen) about her writing project to describe the lives of the black maids there in Mississippi. Stein says they won’t talk to her, but Skeeter says she already has someone who will talk to her. Stein offers to read what she writes, and Skeeter is happy.
In the yard Skeeter is sitting and asking Aibileen how to answer people’s questions on cleaning. She says she needs her help on writing about her life as a maid. She wants to interview four or five maids to show what their life is like in Jackson. Elizabeth’s husband comes home and tells her that they don’t take orders from the help. Elizabeth tells Skeeter to leave and says the Myrna thing will not work out with Aibileen. She says she is sorry.
Minny and Missus Walters are inside during a storm. Hilly wants Minny to go to the outside bathroom, but Missus Walters says she hired her first and says she can use the bathroom inside. Hilly follows her and asks Minny if she is in there. Minny flushes the toilet, and Hilly gets irate and tells her that she is fired.
Minny leaves the house and walks in the rainstorm. That day eighteen people died in Jackson in the tornado.
Aibileen is using the outdoor toilet, and Elizabeth tells her to hurry and take care of Mae Mobley while she goes to the doctor.
Maids are getting on a bus. Minny is taking a chocolate pie she made. Skeeter reminds Aibileen about the book she wants to write, and the bus leaves. Skeeter knows it is scary, and Aibileen tells what happened to her cousin for going to the voting station. She says this scares her more than Jim Crow. Skeeter gives her her phone number and offers to take her home in her car; but Aibileen walks off.
Skeeter reads about the segregation laws in Mississippi. Any person advocating equality between whites and Negroes is subject to imprisonment.
Minny calls Aibileen and says Hilly accused her of stealing a candelabra, but she says she got her back. Minny’s husband Leroy comes home and yells at her.
In a black church the minister preaches about Moses who said he was slow of speech, but the minister talks about courage as doing what is right despite the weakness of our flesh. We need to help our fellow man, our friends and our enemies. They all sing, “Victory Is Mine.”
Aibileen lets Skeeter in to her own home and has her sit on the sofa. Skeeter says she now knows that what they are doing is against the law. She tells Aibileen she never saw her in a dress before other than her uniform and says she looks nice. Aibileen says she never had a white person in her house before. She asks what happens if Skeeter does not like what she says about white people. Skeeter says it is not about her. Aibileen says she will have to change her name. Skeeter asks about Minny, but Aibileen says she is not talking to white people right now. Skeeter asks Aibileen how it feels to be raising a white child while she does not have time to raise her own son. Skeeter tells her she does not have to call her “ma’am.” She asks about bathrooms and Miss Leefolt. Aibileen says she will write down her stories for her like she writes down her prayers. She gets a book she has been writing in. Last night after her prayers she wrote some stories. Aibileen reads about the first white baby she cared for in 1925 when she was fourteen. Skeeter thanks her for doing this for her and asks why she changed her mind. Aibileen says God and Hilly Holbrook.
A new maid Yule Mae Davis (Aunjanuae Ellis) asks Hilly and her husband if they would loan her $75 so that she and her husband could send both of their twins to college. The husband says it is hot and late, and he leaves. She asks Hilly if she would consider it and that she would work for free until it was paid off. Hilly says God does not give charity to those who are well and able and that she will have to come up with the money herself.
Minny tells her daughter Sugar what she has to do when working for the white folks. She says they like to do their own spanking. She warns her not to do any bad-mouthing. They kiss, and her daughter goes to work. Minny went to work for Celia because she was the only white woman that Hilly did not get to with her lies. They introduce themselves to each other, and Minny asks if she is cooking something. They go in the kitchen, and Celia says she has much to learn. Minny agrees will help her. Outside Minny asks her when she is going to start having children. Celia says she is pregnant now. Minny says she will take the job, and Celia is so happy that she tries to kiss her. They go back in the house, and Minny says she cannot work on the weekends. Celia wants her there after nine and to leave before four. Celia would like her husband to think that she could do these things on her own. Minny says Celia burned up her cake.
Hilly is presiding at a meeting of the women, and she announces that the attorney general approved their initiative and passed it along to Governor Barnett. Skeeter says she will put it in the newsletter.
Skeeter in a coffee-shop apologizes to Hilly. Elizabeth has Hilly tell Skeeter that Stuart is coming to take her out on Saturday night.
Aibileen is vacuuming and moves the couch, finding a diamond ring that she puts in her pocket. She puts the baby in her crib.
Aibileen tells Skeeter that the baby has to spend twelve hours in the same diaper until she gets there in the morning. She says Hilly is pregnant again, but she believes she should not be having babies. Minny comes in and tells Aibileen that a bomb went off in Medgar Evers’ driveway. She sees Skeeter and asks her why she thinks colored people need her help. Minny sarcastically says they love making minimum wage without getting social security. Skeeter says maybe things can change. Aibileen disagrees with Minny, who leaves. She comes back in and says that she will do it. Minny says she needs to talk directly to her and asks if she has to ask the questions too. Skeeter starts asking her questions, and Aibileen says she talked all night. Minny says they should get some more maids, and she goes out.
Skeeter comes down to see what came from New York, and Charlotte shows her a new machine she got. She gives Skeeter a hairdo.
Skeeter takes the truck to her date.
Hilly tells Stuart Whitworth (Chris Lowell) she will be there soon, and Skeeter comes in.
At a restaurant Skeeter asks for water, and Stuart orders drinks. He asks if she works, and she says she writes a domestic maintenance column. He says he could not think of anything worse, and she puts him down for being with stinky men in the Navy. He says all the girls from Ole Miss do is major in husband-hunting. She asks if he was dropped on his head, or was he born stupid, and she runs out.
Minny asks Celia what she can cook, and she says cornpone and grits. Minny tells her that Crisco is a great help for many things but is best for frying chicken. She has Celia shake the bag and says the chicken is already dead.
Minny starts eating at a small table in the kitchen, and Celia joins her. Minny says Celia is supposed to eat in the dining-room, but Celia says she is fine right there. Celia likes the chicken and says she is grateful Minny is there. Minny says Celia has to tell her husband.
Stein on the phone tells Skeeter that she likes the stories about the maids. Stein asks how many stories she has and tells her to get at least a dozen maids. She advises her to write it fast before the civil rights thing blows over. Skeeter sits down at the table with Aibileen and Minny and says they need a dozen more. Minny suggests they make them up, but Skeeter won’t do that. Aibileen tells how they killed her son when he was 24 years old. She tells Skeeter to stop this.
By a pool Hilly is talking with Skeeter and Elizabeth. Hilly asks Aibileen if she is enjoying her new bathroom at Elizabeth’s, and Aibileen thanks her. Skeeter agrees you can’t argue with the governor in Mississippi.
Hilly’s new maid asks Skeeter for the loan she needs for her boys to go to college. Hilly comes in, and the maid says she will put her baby boy down for his nap. Hilly asks Skeeter if she is intentionally not putting her initiative in the newsletter. She shows her the law pamphlet and warns her there are real racists. She tells her to put her initiative in the newsletter.
Skeeter is typing the article that asks people to drop off old coats. She decides to white out “coats.”
Charlotte wakes up Skeeter and tells her that a tall and handsome man is there is to see her. Skeeter says he is a drunken asshole.
Outside Stuart apologizes to Skeeter and says he was not ready to go out on a date. He says a girl ended his dating and says he is not always a jerk. She says she has never been on a date. He says she makes him laugh and asks her to have dinner with him. She says she can’t think of anything worse. He says he is sorry and walks away. She asks him to give her a minute.
In a restaurant they eat oysters, and Skeeter says he is disgusting. He admits he reads her Myrna columns and finds them informative. He says she is a good writer. She says she wants to be a journalist or a novelist or both. He likes that and says she is smart and pretty. On the street he says he hopes she will write something really good, and he kisses her.
Hilly comes out of her house and sees toilets on her front lawn. She says Skeeter changed “coats” to “commodes.” Mae Mobley is sitting on a toilet, and her mother spanks her. Aibileen carries the child and kneels on the grass telling her that she is smart and kind and important.
Skeeter and Aibileen are watching Medgar Evers talking on the TV, but her mother turns it off. Skeeter says it was national news, but Charlotte says she won’t have it.
Aibileen talks to a black man on the bus, and he says, “If God is willing.” The bus stops, and the driver tells the colored people to get off because “some nigger got shot.” Aibileen and Henry start walking and go in different directions. In a news reports an official says that this was a brutal murder and that Mississippi is at the bottom of the list.
Aibileen comes into her house, and Minny tells her that Evers was killed. She says they are living in hell trapped. She sends Sugar and her other children to bed. Minny asks what will happen to them, and Aibileen says they are just telling what happened.
Skeeter reads an article by Myrlie Evers in Life magazine. The Journal says they need her Myrna column ten minutes ago.
Minny knocks on the bathroom door and offers to help Celia with her hair. Minny breaks in and finds Celia on the floor. Celia asks why there is so much blood. Minny helps her get to bed, and Celia talks about her pregnancies that were aborted. She says her husband does not know about them and cries.
Celia digs a hole and buries a box and puts a rose bush over it.
The bus stops. As the maid Yula Mae Davis gets off, the police arrest her. Aibileen asks what they are going to do, and she is arrested too. Yula says she wants to get her purse, but they put her on a car, and a policeman hits her with a club.
At a soda fountain Skeeter sees the women come in. A black man working there tells her to go to Aibileen’s house now.
Skeeter comes in and sees about a dozen maids there, and they all say they are going to help. They tell their stories. En elderly lady tells how she took a short cut to work and was threatened with being shot to death; but her employer bought that property so that she could get to work more easily. Another maid says that Jolene is a mean woman. She says everybody thought that her family owned her because she was left to someone in a will.
On the phone Miss Stein tells Skeeter she has to get her book done soon, or it will go in the pile. She tells her to write her own personal story about the maid who raised her.
Celia with a pie rings the doorbell at Hilly’s house, but Hilly tells the others to get down and hide from her. Celia looks in the window and knocks. She realizes they will not let her in and leaves.
Minny tells Celia not to take those women any more pies. She asks Minny why they treated her like that. Minny says they think she had an affair with Johnny. Celia says they hate her for what they think she did. Celia says she is going to the benefit, but Minny advises her to stay home. Celia examines Minny’s bruised eye and treats it. She says if she were her, she would hit him back with a skillet.
Television covers the funeral of Medgar Evers that is attended by Kennedys. Stuart tells Skeeter that he has to leave, and he kisses her and goes.
Minny asks what will happen if they find out who is who. She says they need an insurance policy. She tells them an awful thing she did to Miss Hilly.
Hilly is eating one of Minny’s chocolate pies and has two pieces. Minny says she is glad she likes it. Hilly offers to take her back at less pay. She asks what makes it so good. Minny says it is a special pie and tells Hilly’s mother not to eat it. Minny tells Hilly to eat her shit because that is what she put in it. Hilly asks if she lost her mind. Minny says she will because she did. Miss Walters realizes what it is and laughs. Hilly runs out of the room, and Minny leaves.
Aibileen asks Minny if she was trying to get herself killed. Minny says Hilly put Miss Walters in a nursing home just for laughing. Minny explains that Hilly will persuade people that the book is not about Jackson in order to keep herself safe. Skeeter says that is too dangerous. Minny says they have to put it in or take her part out.
At a Christmas party Celia comes in with her husband. Several maids are serving and comment on Celia’s sexy dress she made. Hilly asks for applause for the help. Celia’s husband asks if she had enough to drink and suggests she eat something. Celia says she does not want her stomach poking out. Jolene announces the winners of the prizes, and Minny wins for her chocolate pie. Celia congratulates Hilly for her high bid and rips her dress. Celia apologizes. Hilly asks who she told. Celia explains that she did not have an affair with Johnny and did not know that she was sweet on him. Celia gets sick on the floor, and they call for napkins. Hilly’s mother tells Hilly she won Minny’s pie for her. She says she remembers that her own daughter threw her into a nursing home and ate Minny’s shit.
Celia tells Minny that she does not need a dining-room table for twelve people because no one comes to see her. Minny says she can’t move back to sugar-ditch. Minny has her sit down and closes the door, and she tells her about the awful pie. She tells Celia that if she leaves Johnny, then Hilly wins the game. Celia thanks her for telling her.
Aibileen and Minny ask if they are going to send off the book now, but Skeeter says she has to finish her story first.
Skeeter asks her mother about Constantine and demands that she tell her what happened. Charlotte says she had no choice. She had been appointed regent of the Daughters of America. She says Constantine had gotten so old. She is serving food at the table when Charlotte opens the door and tells Constantine’s daughter Rachel that she has to go around back to the kitchen. She closes the door. Aibileen comes in another door to see her mother. An older woman tells Charlotte that she does not put up with this nonsense. Charlotte orders Rachel to get out of her house. Constantine says she will take her to the kitchen. Charlotte tells them both to leave now, and they go out.
Skeeter says they did not do anything wrong. She says Constantine taught her everything. Charlotte says she went to her house the next day, but she had already left. Charlotte says they sent her brother to Chicago to bring Constantine home; but she had died. Skeeter cries and says she broke her heart. Charlotte cries and says she is sorry.
Skeeter drives a new car and remembers how Constantine braided her hair.
The book The Help by Anonymous is put in the local bookstore. Skeeter divided the first payment and sent $46 to each maid. Aibileen and Minny get the money and jump up and down happily.
Miss Walters is reading the book and comes across the story she identifies. She calls Hilly to read it because she believes it is about Jackson and is quite scandalous.
In a market Aibileen and Minny see an old lady reading the book.
Stuart tells Skeeter he does not like the book. He asks why she stirred up trouble. She says she had to tell him; but he says she should have told him from the start. He says she is a selfish woman and will be better off alone. He gets in his car and drives off.
Charlotte is reading the book in bed. Elizabeth is bottle feeding her baby as she reads it. In jail black women read about the shit and laugh. Hilly in bed reads it and screams.
Hilly says it is not Jackson and says the whole thing was made up by some “nigra.”
Hilly gets a check from Celia made out to “Two-slice Hilly.”
Hilly is driving while drinking. She comes to Skeeter’s house, and Skeeter asks why she is there. Hilly tells her that her lawyer is the best libel lawyer in the state. They argue, and Hilly says that Aibileen should not have mentioned the L-shaped scratch in Elizabeth’s dining table. Charlotte comes out and asks Hilly is she is ill and calls her a “sweaty mess.” She says she has been eating too much pie. Charlotte tells her to get off her property, and Hilly leaves. Charlotte asks Skeeter to take her inside. Charlotte says they are going shopping so that Skeeter can go to New York with a cosmopolitan wardrobe. She says Miss Stein called. She thanks her for bringing courage back to their family. Skeeter says she can’t leave her like this. Charlotte says she has decided not to die. She tells Skeeter that she has never been more proud of her. Skeeter thanks her, and they kiss and hug.
Minny is walking with a bag of groceries, and Celia’s husband asks if she needs help with those. She drops the bag and picks up a stick. He says that Celia told him about all the babies. He says that her working there saved Celia’s life. Minny realizes he knew she was working there all that time because of the good food. He asks her to come into the house.
Celia has set a table with food, and they come in and see it. Celia tells them that she cooked it by herself to thank her. He tells Minny that she has a job there for the rest of her life if she wants it. He holds a chair for Minny as she sits down at the table. Celia serves her a plate of food. Aibileen says that Minny took her babies, left Leroy, and never went back.
Aibileen and Minny come into the black church where everyone is applauding them. The minister calls them up to the front and says this is an important time in their community. He says they are thanking them for what they have done. They all signed their names in the book, and he gives the book to Aibileen. During the applause Aibileen has Minny join her.
Aibileen and Minny show the signed book to Skeeter who says it is beautiful. She says she got a job offer from a publisher in New York, but she is not going to take it. Aibileen tells her that her mother is getting better, and Minny says she has many enemies there in Jackson. Minny says she is going to take care of Aibileen, and she will take care of Minny.
Aibileen brings in two bags of groceries. Hilly tells her that the silver she lent to Elizabeth is missing three pieces. Aibileen says she will check it, but Hilly says she stole them. Aibileen says she has no silver. Hilly says she is fired, and she is going to call the police. Elizabeth goes to get cough syrup for her baby. Hilly says she can send her to jail. Aibileen says she is a good writer and that people in jail read. Aibileen tells Hilly that she is a godless woman, and she asks if she is tired. Hilly goes out, and Elizabeth tells Aibileen she has to go now. Mae Mobley asks Aibileen not to leave. Aibileen explains that she does not want to leave her, but she is her last baby. Mae says she is smart and kind and important. Aibileen says that is right and kisses her goodbye and goes out.
Aibileen walks while thinking about how God said we need to love our enemies. She says it is hard to do, but it can start by telling the truth. She says no one ever asked her what it was like to be her. Once she told the truth, she felt free. She started thinking about the people she has known. Her son said they would have a writer in the family, and she guesses it is going to be her.
This social drama set in the era when segregation was being challenged in the South portrays a white writer, several maids, and the white women who hired them. The social and economic inequality is stark and is perpetrated by the prejudicial attitudes. Finding out the truth of the circumstances and telling others starts the process of social change.