If Viola Davis could turn back the hands of time, there’s a good chance that she would not have accepted the role of Aibileen Clark in The Help. In the July/August cover story for Vanity Fair, the 54-year-old actress confessed that in some ways, she feels that she “betrayed herself” and the Black community by appearing in the 2011 film.
“I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in,” Davis said of her decision to accept the role.
While the film would go on to garner multiple Oscar nominations and a win for Davis’ co-star Octavia Spencer, it was also met with criticism, which pointed out that it minimized racism and Jim Crow.
“The film downplays the ugliness of Jim Crow and fixates on the goodness of its white protagonist,” Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in an essay for The Atlantic.
“I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me,” Davis went on to say of the film’s cast and crew. “But with any movie—are people ready for the truth?”
Like many films that attempt to broach the subject of racism or that attempt to tell Black stories in general, Davis admits that The Help was created to be palatable to white audiences.
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” said the seasoned actress. “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],” Davis said before adding that The Help, like so many other films, was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Davis has expressed regret over her role in The Help. In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Davis expressed concern over the fact that the storyline primarily focused on the white protagonist’s story as opposed to the maids’.
“Have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and The Help is on that list,” said Davis. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. 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.”
You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.