Viola Davis: “I betrayed myself and my people” by starring in ‘The Help’
Oscar winning actress Viola Davis has explained the overwhelming feeling of betrayal after she starred in 2011 film The Help.
The period drama, which was directed by Tate Taylor and based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name, tells the story a young white woman and her relationship with two black maids during the 1963 Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.
Upon release, the film was greeted by commercial and critical success, one which resulted in four Academy Award nominations which included the prestigious Best Picture and, for Davis, a run at the coveted best Best Actress award.
However, on reflection, the actress has explained how she feels that the decision to star in the lead role has “betrayed myself, and my people” amid the discussion of systemic racism.
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis explained in an interview with 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.”
She continued: “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],” adding that the film was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”
Davis, working alongside the likes of Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer and more on The Help, explained that she took the role in a bid to kickstart her career: “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in,” she said.
The 52-year-old actress also added that in Hollywood “there’s not enough opportunities out there to bring that unknown, faceless Black actress to the ranks of the known. To pop her!”
Adding praise for fellow actors such as Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Stewart, Davis said that “a wonderful role for each stage of their lives, that brought them to the stage they are now. We can’t say that for many actors of colour.”
“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?”