Viola Davis said she regrets her role in The Help—and we’re listening
Viola Davis is not only an incredibly talented actress—she’s the first black woman to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Awards—and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Most recently, the How to Get Away with Murder star admitted that she regrets acting in 2011’s The Help, and her reason highlights a critical point about onscreen representation.
Davis sat down with The New York Times at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival to answer reader questions. The interview, published on September 11th, was full of insights into her incredible career, but the most important revelation was perhaps when Davis confessed that there are some parts she wishes she hadn’t accepted—including the role of housekeeper Aibileen in 2011’s The Help. While Davis was clear that she had a great experience working with the cast and crew of the film, she said that she didn’t think the film depicted the perspectives of the black women it featured.
"I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard," Davis told the Times. "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."
The Help, which tells the story of a young, white writer interviewing black housekeepers about their experience, earned Davis a Best Actress nomination at the 84th Academy Awards. The movie was critically lauded, but at the time of its release, CNN reported that many criticized it for perpetuating a “white savior” narrative, and there were even calls to boycott the film. In a review for the New York Daily News, Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay called the movie “emotionally manipulative” for the way it depicted racial segregation.
It’s important to show a wide range of experiences in Hollywood—but it’s equally important to make sure that these movies accurately capture the voices of the people they claim to depict. Davis’s comments about The Help will give Hollywood a lot to think about, and we’re thankful she’s shining a light on the issue.