Stars of The Help benefit black neighborhood

By The Associated Press

MADISON — Greenwood residents liked what they saw of their city during the Mississippi premiere of “The Help.”

The screening Saturday night brought the movie’s stars back to Mississippi, where most of the movie was shot, to raise money for a community center in Baptist Town, a black neighborhood featured in the movie.

The premiere raised $150,000 to revitalize the century-old neighborhood, The Greenwood Times reported Sunday. Tickets cost $100 to $500, and the crowd filled four theaters.

They came out happy.

“One of the best movies I ever laid my eyes on. I’m going to watch it 100 times,” said Henry Carpenter, who lives in Greenwood and plays a yardman named Jameso in the movie. He was one of the few Greenwood residents with a speaking part. His one line was, “How do you do, Miss Eugenia.”

“I found out today I’m a real movie star. Today’s my day,” Carpenter said.

The film, mostly shot in Greenwood last summer, opens nationwide Aug. 10. Set in 1960s Jackson, it’s about three women who defy their segregated society to write a book from the point of view of black domestics who work for white families.

Emma Stone, who plays protagonist Skeeter Phelan, said she enjoyed Greenwood’s food and people — but wouldn’t stay for the screening because she can’t watch herself on film.

“It’s wonderful. It’s so good to be back. I can’t imagine getting to do this anywhere else. It’s really great,” Stone said.

Jessica Chastain, who takes a memorable turn as the unrefined but endearing Celia Foote, said sweet tea was what she missed most about Greenwood. It probably helped that Chastain had to gain weight for her role. She modeled the character in part after Marilyn Monroe, who she said would probably have been Celia Foote’s favorite actress.

Betty Thomas of Greenwood said her mother, Ethel Gordon, 86, has been a domestic worker since age 14. Thomas said the movie “was just right down to the way things used to be,” she said.

Family and friends in the audience burst into cheers when Minny Jackson’s daughter, played by 14-year-old Kelsey Scot of Swiftown, showed up on screen.

Although the Leflore County High School student showed up often with Jackson, played by Octavia Spencer, she didn’t have a speaking role. That didn’t bother her.

“It was exciting. It was real good,” she said.