In a searing judgment of a major Hollywood film, Viola Davis said in a new interview with Vanity Fair that she regrets the role she played in “The Help,” the 2011 film that was nominated for an Academy Award but that she said was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
“There’s no one who’s not entertained by ‘The Help,'” she told the magazine in a cover story. “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 added that the film was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
She said she took the role in the hopes that it would make her “pop” — “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in,” she explained. And while “The Help” did help elevate her career, it didn’t lead to the influx of complex roles she had hoped for.
“The Help,” which won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Octavia Spencer and got a Best Actress nomination for Davis as well as Jessica Chastain, told the story of an aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s who writes a book detailing the experiences of the African American maids’ on the white families for whom they work. Davis played Aibileen Clark, one of the maids.
When people ask her why she went on to do six years of network TV on “How to Get Away With Murder” when she already had a thriving film career, she said, “I always ask them, What movies? What were those movies? Listen, I got ‘Widows,’ but if I just relied on the Hollywood pipeline… No, there are not those roles.”
The problem with “The Help” and other stories like it that have caught heat for what some view as perpetuating a white-savior narrative, Davis continued, is that “not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity.”
“They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the white audience,” she said, echoing regrets she had first expressed about the film in a 2018 New York Times interview. “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.”