Viola Davis looks like a goddess on the cover of Vanity Fair’s July/August issue, where she talks about finding her voice and expands on why she deeply regrets her role in The Help.
The film, which starred Emma Stone as an aspiring southern journalist, was adapted from a book of the same name that centered the experiences of white women in relation to their maids. Aibileen, the character played by Davis, is the hero of the story but is pushed to the side in favor of highlighting a white narrative, set in Mississippi.
Davis previously expressed regret over her role in The Help, saying she has nothing but love for her white castmates and director Tate Taylor but that she’s more aware now that the film and its source material weren’t ready to fully address the racism it clumsily danced around.
Vanity Fair writes:
Davis took her part as Aibileen in The Help because she herself was hoping to pop. “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in.” The film became a nationwide sensation and nabbed her another Oscar nomination, but its reductive view of race relations troubled many critics. In 2018, Davis told the New York Times that she regretted taking the role. She still does, even though The Help recently became the most viewed film on Netflix. Davis is effusive in her praise of writer-director Tate Taylor, who is white, and the majority-female cast. “I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me,” she says. “But with any movie—are people ready for the truth?”
Davis adds, “Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity... 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.” And she says, “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].”
Focusing on her place in larger discussions around race, Davis also talked about the surge in activism following the murder of George Floyd. While she wanted to show up for protests in Los Angeles, she tells Vanity Fair, she ultimately opted out due to health concerns. Her close friend and neighbor Octavia Spencer told the mag, “COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate for Black Americans. Both of us cried. This WAS our civil rights movement, and we were sidelined because of health issues. We felt isolated from the movement.”
“My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice. The dark-skinned Black woman’s voice is so steeped in slavery and our history. If we did speak up, it would cost us our lives. Somewhere in my cellular memory was still that feeling that I do not have the right to speak up about how I’m being treated, that somehow I deserve it. I did not find my worth on my own.”
Read the full interview on Vanity Fair.