In the July/August issue of Vanity Fair actress Actress Viola Davis reflects on playing the role of maid Aibileen Clark in The Help.
Davis said she took the part as Aibileen because she was hoping “To Pop,” which she did… and was nominated for an Oscar!
“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. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard.”
She still feels that way, 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?”
The film reaches toward the tragedy of Aibileen’s story, then rapidly undermines its own high stakes, turning racism into a social farce. “Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” says 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.”
Photographs By DARIO CALMESE; For Vanity Fair