In a new interview with The New York Times, Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis spoke out about the difficulty of serving as a representative for black women in popular culture, and revealed that she now regrets having worked on 2011 film The Help, despite the film’s critical and commercial success.
Speaking to reporter Mekado Murphy, Davis said that one of the most meaningful yet difficult aspects of her life is the responsibility she feels to take advantage of her position as a prominent black actress to both represent black women at large and to help advance the causes of other women of color.
“The responsibility of feeling like I am the great black female hope for women of color has been a real professional challenge,” she acknowledged. “Being that role model and picking up that baton when you’re struggling in your own life has been difficult. Looking at the deficit and seeing that once you’re on top, you can either take the role of leadership or you can toss it in the garbage and say, ‘I’m just out to save myself.’ I choose to be the leader.”
To that end, she noted, she had come to regret appearing in The Help — a film that was nominated for four Academy Awards, including a best actress nod for Davis — because she felt it didn’t do enough to tell the stories of the black women that the plot was nominally centered around.
“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” said Davis. “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.”
Davis, who stars in the upcoming crime drama Widows, also spoke to the importance of showing on screen “what the outside world has not seen,” even if “that [costs] me something as Viola.”
“How many movies have you seen where you see a dark-skinned woman of 53 with her natural hair in bed with Liam Neeson?” she asked, adding that her role in Widows left her feeling very vulnerable. “All of my characters cost me something. I feel like if they don’t cost me anything, then I’m not doing my job.”
Davis has been outspoken in the past about not only the effort she puts into her roles but the challenges she and other black actresses have faced in Hollywood. She appeared onstage at the 2018 Women in the World New York Summit earlier this year and in a one-on-one interview with MSNBC host and author Joy-Ann Reid discussed a range of topics, including how Hollywood needs to bring more diversity to the screen in terms of its perceptions of what constitutes beauty in women. “I know women. I’m sorry, not every woman who’s sexual is a size two,” she said. “Not every women who’s sexual is walking like a supermodel, and not every women who’s sexual is lighter than a paper bag.” Watch highlights and the full interview below.
Read the full interview at The New York Times.