Viola Davis regrets role in The Help: 'Feels like I betrayed myself, and my people'
Viola Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of 1960s housemaid Aibileen Clark in 2011's The Help, a role she's publicly regretted since its release due to the marginalization of Black maids and its "white savior" narrative. The period drama tells the story of a white journalist in the south (played by Emma Stone) and her relationship with two maids, Clark and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.
Davis, who is featured on the cover of Vanity Fair's latest issue — the magazine's first cover shot by a Black photographer — dives deeper into her regret amid renewed interest in the film during the mass protests against the death of George Floyd.
“There’s no one who’s not entertained by The Help," she said. "But there’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself, and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth]." She adds that the film was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
Davis finds a big problem in the industry is that there's “not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity" and that Hollywood is more “invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the white audience. The white audience at the most can sit and get an academic lesson into how we are. Then they leave the movie theater and they talk about what it meant. They’re not moved by who we were.”
She adds, “There’s not enough opportunities out there to bring that unknown, faceless Black actress to the ranks of the known. To pop her!" Which is one of the main reasons why she took the role in the first place, saying, “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in."
And even though the film did bring Davis acclaim, there wasn't a flood of offers coming her way. Three years after The Help, Davis joined the cast of the ABC legal thriller How To Get Away With Murder, a show she led until its conclusion in May. She explains that people are often curious about why she decided to front a television show on the heels of her success in the film.
“I always ask them, What movies? What were those movies? Listen, I got Widows," she said of the female heist film in 2018. She adds, “but if I just relied on the Hollywood pipeline…. No, there are not those roles.”
To help combat systemic racism, please consider donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero, which is dedicated to ending police brutality in America through research-based strategies.
- Color of Change, which works to move decision makers in corporations and government to be more responsive to racial disparities.
- Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial, or abused in state jails and prisons.