Viola Davis regrets taking the role of Aibileen in the 2011 film “The Help.”
“I have passed on a lot of roles. There have been one or two that I regretted for maybe a minute, and then I let it go ... Almost a better question is, have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted?” the “Widows” actress told The New York Times in an interview published Tuesday.
Davis, who earned an Oscar nomination for best actress for the role, said that looking back, she wishes she had passed on the opportunity.
“I have [regretted roles], and ‘The Help’ is on that list. But not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great,” she said. “The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than [director] Tate Taylor.”
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom,” Davis continued. “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.”
Although the film was critically acclaimed, it was also criticized for downplaying the violence and ugliness of Jim Crow–era racism. As feminist writer Roxane Gay explained in a 2012 essay, “‘The Help’ is emotionally manipulative, taking every opportunity to cut the viewer’s heart wide open with painfully depicted scenes of racial segregation and the petty humiliations African-Americans faced during that era.”
Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma” and “13th,” agreed with Davis’ criticism in a tweet on Wednesday.
“Much respect to all involved. With that said, I understand Viola on this. Hope others do too,” she wrote. “THE HELP was the last film I worked on as a publicist. I quit PR. That film pushed me to make my own ― for the reasons Viola states. I’m grateful for that push.”
This is not the first time Davis has spoken up about the film. At a British Academy of Film and Television Arts event last year, she criticized the movie for not being historically accurate.
“I absolutely love the premise,” Davis said. “I love the fact that [Emma Stone’s character] said ‘I am going to write a story from the maids’ perspective of what it feels like to work with these white women.’ Operative term meaning the maids’ perspective. I don’t feel like it was from our perspective, that’s the problem I had with it. I had it from the very beginning.”
Head over to The New York Times to read Davis’ full interview.
This article has been updated to include comments from Ava DuVernay comments.