Viola Davis made headlines in September 2018 after admitting she regretted starring in “The Help,” Tate Taylor’s 2011 drama that earned Davis an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Nearly two years later, Davis tells Vanity Fair in a new interview that she continues to feel betrayed by the movie. “The Help” reentered the national conversation in a big way at the beginning of June when it topped Netflix’s most-watched charts amid global protests over the death of George Floyd. The resurgence of “The Help” reignited backlash against the film (cast member Bryce Dallas Howard even suggested not to stream it), and Davis said to Vanity Fair the movie was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis said. “They’re 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.”
“There’s no one who’s not entertained by ‘The Help,'” Davis added. “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].”
Why did Davis agree to take on the role of Aibileen? “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in,” she told Vanity Fair, citing how in Hollywood “there’s not enough opportunities out there to bring that unknown, faceless Black actress to the ranks of the known. To pop her!” Such is the case for actresses like Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon, and Kristen Stewart, all of whom Davis called “fabulous white actresses” who have had “a wonderful role for each stage of their lives, that brought them to the stage they are now. We can’t say that for many actors of color.”
Davis’ interview with Vanity Fair expands on her criticisms of “The Help” that she first shared with The New York Times two years ago. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” Davis said at the time. “I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”
Head over to Vanity Fair’s website to read Davis’ interview in its entirety.