The film The Help opened nationwide this week. As MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, the production brought more than just fame and stars to the Delta.

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Movie “The Help” Brings Pride and Cash to Greenwood

By Sandra Knispel | Published 12 Aug 2011 10:56am | comments
Sylvester Hoover is the owner of Hoover's Grocery in the African-American Baptist Town community of Greenwood. He helped the production team of "the Help" find film locations and extras.

The film The Help opened nationwide this week. Despite some controversy, with critics charging that black actresses’ playing maids constitutes a return to stereotypical roles, most residents of Greenwood seem proud of the movie that was filmed there. As MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, the production brought more than just fame and stars to the Delta.

[movie scene] “I have drafted the home help sanitation initiative,” Hilly Holbrook announced. “The What?” asked Skeeter Phelan. “A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bath room for the help,” Hilly explained.” “Maybe we should just build you a separate bathroom outside, Hilly,” Skeeter retorted. 

Most of the movie’s scenes, including the one with the old toilets scattered all over the front yard of the movie’s segregationist character Hilly Holbrook, were shot right here in Greenwood last year. The production came just at the right time:

“It was a real boost for us, because things were slow. We were not seeing much economic development activity.” 

Angela Curry is the executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation.  Last summer she added another entry to her vita: 

"I was an extra in The Help. I was actually part of the church scene where Aibileen actually walks into the church and she’s surprised because everyone is applauding," Curry explains.

Walk around Greenwood and you’ll run into loads of former extras. Somehow, nearly everybody seems to have been involved in the film. The go-to-man in the historically African-American quarter of Greenwood, the so-called Baptist Town community, is Sylvester Hoover. He runs a small grocery with a launderette tucked in the back of the store. Roughly a whopping 90 percent in this all-black neighborhood are unemployed. Here, to work is the exception, not the norm. But that all changed for nine months last year.

“I could tell when they was filming close by this area because money circulate[d], because he paid different people to do different jobs,"Hoover recalls. "And a lot of these people over here worked with the movie people.”

As if to prove Hoover’s point, right on cue, 27-year-old Dash Brown walks into the grocery.

“Mr. Hoover here helped me get a job as a production assistant and I worked basically from day one to the day they left.”

The making of the movie brought more than just money to the poor Baptist Town community, bordered on two sides by the train tracks where some houses are nothing more than dilapidated shotgun shacks with plastic sheeting in place of window panes. Again Sylvester Hoover. 

The Help really, you know, changed our whole community. People now don’t look down on our community now like they did, because The Help kind of elevated us and everybody now’s just looking at our community.”

Angela Curry is proud that the Economic Development Foundation managed to lure the movie to Greenwood, beating out another location in Louisiana.

“It was well worth the incentives that we were able to pull together to win this project," Curry says. "Just as with any other economic development project, if it had been manufacturing we would have put together an incentives package to lure that company to our community. We did the same thing with this film production.” 

According to Bill Crump, chairman of the Development Foundation, the result was substantial. 

“The filming of The Help just here in Greenwood last summer, without any of the economic multipliers that are normally used, created around $13 million of economic impact on Greenwood and Leflore County.”

Often when the proverbial circus leaves town and takes its odd jobs with it, the old rut returns. But maybe not in Baptist Town. Funds raised though a ritzy advance film screening with the stars in Madison last month, and seed money given by crew and cast members all go towards the Baptist Town Revitalization Fund.

“We have put together this coalition between the city and the county. The state has helped with some donations of Mississippi cottages that will be used in the housing portion of the revitalization project. And this additional $180,000 that has been brought in from the cast and the crew and the screening of The Help further provides outside money to show that there is outside support and other funding.” 

It’s that kind of outside funding, Crump hopes, that will attract large grants from philanthropic foundations to build new homes, sidewalks, a playground and a recreation center for Baptist Town. Already, Dash Brown, the young part-time production assistant, is reaping personal benefits. Having dropped out of college several years ago, he had unpaid student loans. For him, the movie’s title now has personal meaning.

“They helped me out a lot here," Brown says. "After the movie they actually got us some money to help me pay off my loans so I can get back in school. So, I’m actually now in school. I’m at Moorhead, the Community College here." [Reporter: “What are you taking?”] "Elementary education. I want to be a teacher,"Brown adds. 

For the owner of Hoover’s grocery, it’s also about making sure the eyelids don’t droop again.

“It just kind of woke up our community and let peoples [sic] know that our community – it means something. It got history, it got heritage. It got culture.”

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Greenwood.



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