Viola Davis has expressed regret about her role in 2011 film The Help, apparently concurring with critics of its “white saviour” narrative. Davis played Aibileen Clark, one of two black maids in 1963 Mississippi whose stories are told by a young white woman (Emma Stone) in a book exposing the everyday racism they face.
In an interview with the New York Times, Davis cited The Help as a role she regretted. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” she said. “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.”
Davis qualified her criticism by saying that the experience of making the film in terms of friendships and collaborators was extremely positive.
In the same interview, Davis spoke of the “responsibility of feeling like I am the great black female hope for women of colour”, describing it as “a real professional challenge”.
“Being that role model and picking up that baton when you’re struggling in your own life has been difficult. Looking at the deficit and seeing that once you’re on top, you can either take the role of leadership or you can toss it in the garbage and say, ‘I’m just out to save myself.’ I choose to be the leader.”
The Help, directed by Tate Taylor, earned much praise for its cast, and some censure for its plot. Reviewing for the Guardian, Xan Brooks described its moral universe as “rendered in bright cartoonish strokes”. He continued: “The Help is a broad southern melodrama that implicitly frames the push for racial equality as the tale of oppressed African-Americans who are given their voice by a lone white do-gooder.”
Davis, who has won a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar (for Fences), has been a passionate campaigner for both gender and race pay parity.
Speaking earlier this year, she called out what she suggested was implicit prejudice in the entertainment industry.
“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver,” she told Tina Brown. “They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them. Not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it.
“People say, ‘You’re a black Meryl Streep … We love you. There is no one like you’,” she explained. “OK, then if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth.”
Davis is currently picking up rave reviews for her role in Steve McQueen’s forthcoming film, Widows.
Source: Guardian UK