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'I betrayed myself, and my people' says Viola Davis of her role in 'The Help'

The actress said she feels guilty about starring in a film that was "invested in the idea of what it means to be Black" but catered "to the white audience".

'I betrayed myself, and my people' says Viola Davis of her role in 'The Help'
Viola Davis attends the premiere of Amazon Studios' "Troop Zero" at Pacific Theatres at The Grove on January 13, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

Viola Davis once again expressed regret in starring in the 2011 movie adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Although the film became a nationwide sensation and nabbed her an Oscar nomination, the 54-year-old said in a recent interview for Vanity Fair that she feels like she betrayed herself and the Black community by being a part of the project. The actress explained that while she took the role in the hopes of finally breaking the glass ceiling in Hollywood—an industry that long sidelined her despite her being one of the most talented thespians of her time—she feels guilty about starring in a film that was "invested in the idea of what it means to be Black" but catered "to the white audience".



"I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in," Davis said of her accepting the role of Aibileen in The Help, which recently became the most viewed film on Netflix. Despite her feelings about the film, the star was generous in her praise of writer-director Tate Taylor, who is white, and the majority-female cast that included Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, and Octavia Spencer. "I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me," she said. "But with any movie—are people ready for the truth?"



"Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity," said Davis. "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." The Emmy, Oscar and Tony Award-winning actress—the first Black actor to win the "Triple Crown of Acting" according to BBC–added, "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 the film, in which she played the role of a maid who helps Emma Stone's journalist character expose racism in the community, was "created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism." This is not the first time the renowned actress has voiced her regret about taking the role. Speaking to The New York Times in 2018, Davis expressed similar sentiments when asked if has ever regretted passing on a role. "Almost a better question is, have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and 'The Help' is on that list. But not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great," she said at the time.



"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 Tate Taylor," Davis explained. "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."



Since its release in 2011, The Help has garnered backlash for its portrayal of racism in a way that appeals to white viewers. The criticism grew louder in recent weeks as people flocked to watch the film on Netflix following the recent protests against the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. "'The Help' paints racism in very broad strokes, presenting it all in a vacuum, like an old-time disease that has long since been remedied," film critic Candice Frederick wrote in an article titled 'The Help' Addresses Racism Without Making White People Feel Guilty—And That's the Problem for "So of course white viewers are going to flock to it because it doesn't force them to face anything real in the present day in the way that a film like 'I Am Not Your Negro' does."


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