Viola Davis has long been a powerful voice for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, using her platform as an award-winning actress to inspire change. After winning an Emmy in 2015, she famously said, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity." It was a powerful moment in Emmys history, sparking conversations about how the entertainment industry casts actors and chooses to tell diverse stories.
But in a recent interview with The New York Times, Davis, 53, says she still regrets not pushing hard enough in the past, specifically regarding her role as Aibileen Clark in the 2011 film, The Help, and her reasoning is quite powerful.
"Have I ever done roles that I've regretted? I have, and The Help is on that list," she explained.
She continued: "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. 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."
Though she has regrets about the film's storytelling, she told the Times that she treasured her experience with each and every person who contributed to the film.
"The friendships that I formed are ones that I'm going to have for the rest of my life," she added. "I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than Tate Taylor."
Her concerns about the film's narrative mirror those many critics and casual viewers had when it debuted seven years ago. As lovely as many people thought Emma Stone's character, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, was, they took issue with the fact that the film centered around her feelings and how she, not the women who worked tirelessly to raise her, bridged racial divides.
These "white savior" storylines, in which a white person uses their privilege to prop up and "save" a marginalized community, have been prominently featured in recent decades in films like Freedom Writers, Radio, The Blind Side, Finding Forrester, and La La Land (sorry Ryan Gosling, but jazz music would have survived even without your charming smile).
None of this is to say that white people shouldn't fight for equality. The point is that these stories should never be solely focused on the white "perpetrator of justice." Often, these aren't even white characters' stories to tell. Instead, they belong to the communities who have been fighting for equality for decades, whether they've been working on a local level or using their celebrity to push for equal pay and more opportunities, like Davis has.
If we're going to commit to making Hollywood a more inclusive space, then we need to let people of color tell their own stories. Period.