With the conversation surrounding racial injustice heating up, the 2011 period drama The Help, revolving around the friendship between a white female journalist and two black maids during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, was recently revealed to be one of the top trending films on Netflix. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Viola Davis, who played one of the maids, expressed regret over her participation in the film.
"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]. [The Help was] created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism."
The Help was an adaptation of a 2009 novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, starring a stellar cast consisting of Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. The film was a big hit upon release, and critics praised the actors for their performances.
Over time, however, the movie has come under fire for presenting a watered-down version of the civil rights struggle going on at the time. Other criticisms of the film include playing into the 'white savior' trope and shortchanging the character of the two black maids, played by Davis and Octavia Spencer. This last point is one that Davis has a particular issue with when it comes to The Help.
"Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity. 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."
But despite her criticisms, Davis also points out that her problems are with the story itself, and not the cast and crew of the film, or the writer-director Tate Taylor.
"I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me. But with any movie-are people ready for the truth?"
Davis's musing are being shared by a growing number of people in Hollywood, and the world's biggest entertainment industry continues to grapple with the role it is meant to play in harmonizing race relations.
For her part, despite her regrets over The Help, the movie proved hugely influential to Davis's career. The actress has won Oscars, Tonys, and Emmys through the course of a distinguished career, and carved a niche for herself in the pop culture landscape in the role of Annalise Keating on the hit show How to Get Away with Murder.
Davis will also be seen in next year's hotly-anticipated superhero caper The Suicide Squad, where the actress will reprise the role of Amanda Waller, a powerful government operative who uses a clandestine team of supervillains to do the administration's dirty work. This story first appeared in Vanity Fair.