Viola Davis: I feel like I betrayed myself by being in The Help

Kimberley Bond
·3-min read
The actress has won acclaim for her roles in Fences and How to Get Away with Murder: PA
The actress has won acclaim for her roles in Fences and How to Get Away with Murder: PA

Viola Davis has said she “betrayed herself” when she starred in The Help.

The 54-year-old, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for playing Aibileen Clark in the drama, said Tate Taylor’s film “catered to a white audience” without putting enough emphasis on black voices.

“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” she said in the August edition of 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 theatre and they talk about what it meant. They’re not moved by who we were.”

The film, an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name, followed a group of black maids who worked for white families in 1960s America.

Davis added she felt The Help was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

“There’s no-one who’s not entertained by The Help,” she said. “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 says The Help was made in the 'cesspool of systemic racism' (Walt Disney Pictures)
Davis says The Help was made in the 'cesspool of systemic racism' (Walt Disney Pictures)

Davis, who won an Oscar in 2017 for her performance in Fences, has previously been vocal about the wide gap between successful actors of colour and white actors.

Speaking at the Woman of the World event in 2018, she said: “I got the Oscar, I got the Emmy, I got the two Tonys, I've done Broadway, I've done off-Broadway, I've done TV, I've done film, I've done all of it.

"I have a career that's probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver. They all came out of Yale, they came out of Julliard, they came out of NYU.

The star also shared her concerns about black actors not receiving the same opportunities as their white counterparts (REUTERS)
The star also shared her concerns about black actors not receiving the same opportunities as their white counterparts (REUTERS)

“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."

While the recent Black Lives Matter movements have led to further discussions about the fair treatment of black people in the entertainment industry, Davis added in her Vanity Fair interview that she feels there are still not enough opportunities available for black actresses.

“There’s not enough opportunities out there to bring that unknown, faceless black actress to the ranks of the known. To pop her!” she said.

Naming Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon and Kristen Stewart as “fabulous white actresses”, she said they have “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.”

Read Viola Davis's full interview in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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