Viola Davis Regrets Starring in 'The Help': 'I Betrayed Myself and My People'

Viola Davis has repeatedly said she regretted starring in the 2011 film The Help, even though the movie helped her score her second Oscar nomination. The Help has always been a controversial movie since it tells the story of racism Black maids faced in 1960s Mississippi from the perspective of a white woman. Davis, whose career skyrocketed after The Help, said she now feels like she "betrayed myself, and my people" by making the movie.

"There's no one who's not entertained by The Help. 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 told Vanity Fair in 2020. She said the movie was "created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism."

The Help was based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett and stars Emma Stone as aspiring journalist Skeeter Phelan. Since Skeeter is uncomfortable with the racist attitudes the white socialites have about their Black maids, she decides to write an expose featuring interviews with the maids. Skeeter's book focuses on the experiences of Aibileen Clark (Davis) and Minny Jackson, played by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. It was written and directed by Tate Taylor, who is white.

"I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me," Davis told Vanity Fair of her Help co-stars. "But with any movie – are people ready for the truth?"

Davis, whose 2020 interview was published around the time The Help became a big hit on Netflix, also criticized the movie for leaning hard into Aibileen's tragic story. "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. 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."

In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Davis was asked if she ever regretted passing on a role. Instead of answering that question, she said The Help is the one movie she regretted making, even though she had a "great experience" working with Taylor and her co-stars.

"I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn't the voices of the maids that were heard," Davis 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."

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Although Davis was already an Oscar-nominee thanks to her performance in Doubt, The Help took her career to another level. The movie earned her a Best Actress nomination, and she would later win Best Supporting Actress for Fences in 2017. In 2021, she was nominated for starring in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. She now stars as former First Lady Michelle Obama in Showtime's The First Lady, which also stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt.