Viola Davis Said She “Betrayed” Herself by Starring in ‘The Help’

She said the movie was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

A lot of actors probably have roles they wish they didn’t take, either because the show was too silly or the movie turned out bad. But, sometimes, that feeling can go much deeper than simple regret. As she explains in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Viola Davis feels her role in The Help was a sort of betrayal, to herself and to the Black community. 

“There’s no one who’s not entertained by The Help,” Davis told writer Sonia Saraiya. “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 Help was wildly popular when it came out in 2011. It was nominated for Best Picture at the 2012 Oscars, Davis was nominated for Best Actress, and Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress—with Spencer winning the award. But, the way that the film handles race has been widely criticized, including at the time, but with the backlash growing even stronger in hindsight.

In 2018, Davis told The New York Times that she regretted the role because “it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard.” The film recently became the number one streamed movie on Netflix, which lead star Bryce Dallas Howard to suggest viewers look elsewhere if they’re looking for meaningful portrayals of Black Americans in light of the current fight against systemic racism.

“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis told Vanity Fair. “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.” 

Viola Davis

Davis also noted that The Help was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

Considering the world we live in, it’d be impossible for it to not be. Plus, Hollywood is a microcosm for a lot of issues that exist in the world. In the Vanity Fair article, Davis talks about it being especially hard for Black women in Hollywood to speak up about harassment or equal pay, because of the labels that will be thrown at them like “bitch” and “unruly.”

If there is a place that is a metaphor for just fitting in and squelching your own authentic voice, Hollywood would be the place,” Davis explained. She also clarified that she enjoyed working with director Tate Taylor and her Help co-stars, but she asked a question that audiences should keep in mind: “I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me … But with any movie—are people ready for the truth?”

Filed Under