Viola Davis Says Her Movie The Help Was Created in 'the Cesspool of Systemic Racism'

"There's a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself and my people," Viola Davis said of her role in The Help

Jeff Kravitz/AMA2017/FilmMagic.

Viola Davis is once again speaking out about The Help, saying that the 2011 movie was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

In the latest Vanity Fair cover story, the actress, 54, shared that she took her role in The Help because she was “trying to get in” to the film industry.

Davis played Aibileen Clark, a maid working for a socialite white family in the 1960s, while fellow actress Octavia Spencer played another maid being mistreated by the family she worked for. Davis was nominated for Best Actress at the 2012 Academy Awards for her role, and Spencer went on to win Best Supporting Actress.

The movie sees both women rise above their situations, but Davis noted how it centers on white voices and caters to a white audience.

Viola Davis The Help - 2011
Viola Davis in The Help (2011). Dreamworks Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock

“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. 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],” the Oscar winner added.

Still, Davis expressed “the love” she has for the other actresses she made the film with, as well as “the love they have” for her. The movie also starred Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the large cast of women have remained close since wrapping on the film.

Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis

Davis previously opened up about regretting her role in The Help in a 2018 interview with The New York Times.

“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.”

Davis clarified that although she now doesn’t like the way her character was portrayed, she’s still grateful for the bonds she made with her costars.

“But not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great,” she said. “The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than [writer-director] Tate Taylor.”

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