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The Help



SmokeScreeners Rating:  

Year of Release:  2011

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

Director: Tate Taylor

Distributor:  Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This film was reviewed by Dr. Barry Hummel of QDREF on February 24, 2012.

Additional Comments:

"The Help tells the story of racial and economic inequality in the south through the eyes of several black maids.  Unfortunately, it also tells the story of smoking inequality.

There are 12 different characters, all white, who smoke throughout the film.  The characters range from the receptionist at the newspaper office to an editor of a New York publishing house (Mary Steenburgen).  However, it is multiple scenes of smoking by the Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) that are the most important and disturbing.

Skeeter is a beautiful, forward-thinking young woman.  She is the perfect role model for young girls watching the film.  The use of tobacco by such a character is exactly what the tobacco industry hopes for; if role model such as Skeeter smokes, it must be okay.


Skeeter is not the only young, beautiful woman that smokes in the film.  Several of the worst scenes in the film take place at afternoon Bridge Clubs, during which many of the white socialites smoke while playing cards.

Almost every major white cast members smokes at least once, including Stone, Steenburgen, Alison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Camp, and Wes Chatham.  Again, none of the black cast members smoke.

I understand that this is a period piece, and that people smoked more in the 1960s.  In fact, 42% of Americans smoked in 1960, compared to 20% when the film was released.  Do you think that makes any difference to teenagers?  Teens do not think about the era of the movie; they simply see the smoking and respond to it emotionally.  Remember, movies are make-believe.  If you chose not to show the smoking, no one would miss it.


One other point:  In 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America adopted a highly subjective policy that calls for the Film Ratings Board to 'consider smoking' when rating movies and states that movies 'may' receive a higher rating because of pervasive and glamorized smoking.  If ever a movie qualified under these criteria, it would be The Help.  It looks like the MPAA dropped the ball however, as the film was rated 'PG-13, Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13'.  How much worse does movie smoking have to be in order to qualify for a smoking designation?

On the other hand, kudos to Dreamworks and Touchstone Pictures (Disney) for including an anti-tobacco public service announcement on the DVD release.  Studies have shown that these types of anti-tobacco messages reduce the impact of onscreen smoking images."


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