Academy Award-winning actor Viola Davis has spoken out against her role as Aibileen Clark in the 2011 film The Help.
After the death of George Floyd reignited a global push for the Black Lives Matter movement, Netflix US reported The Help had become its number one most-viewed film at the time. It showed people wanted to educate themselves on Black history and racial injustice, but The Help just isn’t the best film to do that.
Despite opening to mainstream praise, including an Oscar nomination for Davis’ role in the movie, The Help has been torched for its White saviour narrative. It was directed by a White man, based on a book by a White woman, and tells the story of a White woman’s decision to write about the lives of Black maids.
Davis has voiced her regret about starring in The Help before. In 2018, she told The New York Times that ultimately, it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard in the movie. In a stunning cover feature with Vanity Fair, Davis further elaborated on the issue.
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis said. “They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the White audience.”
She said The Help, like many other films, was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systematic racism.”
“There’s no one who’s not entertained by The Help,” she continued. “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 said she has nothing but respect for director Tate Taylor and the cast. “But with any movie – are people ready for the truth?”
Bryce Dallas Howard, who starred in The Help as racist Hilly Holbrook, also spoke out against the film when Netflix first announced the results.
“I’m so grateful for the exquisite friendships that came from the film – our bond is something I treasure deeply and will last a lifetime,” she shared. “That being said, The Help is a fictional story told through the perspective of a White character and was created by predominantly White storytellers. We can all go further.”
Instead of watching The Help, Howard suggested 13th, Selma, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, and When They See Us among others.
13th and When They See Us are available on Netflix Australia and you can find I Am Not Your Negro on Stan. You can also rent a number of these titles on services like Google Play and Amazon. Watchmen is available on Foxtel’s Binge.
In February, it was announced Davis will star as Michelle Obama in First Ladies. The series will peel back the curtain on the personal and political lives of first ladies throughout history. Season 1 will focus on Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Obama.