Viola Davis recently criticized the movie The Help, in which she starred in 2011, in an interview with Vanity Fair, accusing the film of “catering primarily to white audiences.” Davis had nothing but praise for director Tate Taylor and her fellow cast mates, but she made it clear that to this day she regrets the story and its themes.
“There’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself,” Davis said, “and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth].”
It’s true – many regard The Help, first a novel by Kathryn Stockett, and then a movie starring Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone; as a patronizing, saccharine story about the passiveness of black people, specifically black women, in their own history. Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson (Davis and Spencer, respectively), along with several other maids, are given a voice by the liberal-minded Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone), a white woman – whose family owns a cotton plantation, no less – when she interviews them and publishes their stories in a scandalous novel about the reality of being a black maid in a racist southern town.
The story is a classic “white savior” narrative, wherein people of color are helpless without the assistance of white people to combat prejudice mindsets and racist legislature. In light of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and several others, Netflix decided to showcase several movies featuring themes of racism and black empowerment in the month of June (2020), The Help among them. This was the trigger that really started people talking about The Help and how it was not as progressive or “woke” as it purported itself to be.
Davis went on to say that while Hollywood is improving on the feminist front, things have far to go when it comes to the advancement of black women in the entertainment world. “We know as women, when you speak up, you’re labeled a b***h – immediately. Unruly – immediately. Just as a woman. As a woman of color, there is very, very, very little you have to do. All you have to do is maybe roll your eyes, and that’s it.”
It’s been almost ten years since The Help debuted. Viola Davis just finished the highly successful How To Get Away With Murder, for which she became the first black female receipt of a Primetime Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama, plus having filmed several other movies along the way. The Help is in her rearview mirror – hopefully the road ahead promises fulfilling roles of which Mrs. Davis can be proud.