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Viola Davis regrets starring in ‘The Help’: ‘I betrayed myself and my people’

Viola Davis joins L'Oréal Paris to celebrate the launch of Age Perfect Cosmetics on March 3, 2020 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Viola Davis joins L'Oréal Paris to celebrate the launch of Age Perfect Cosmetics on March 3, 2020 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for L'Oréal Paris

Viola Davis said she regrets starring in The Help in an interview in the new issue of Vanity Fair, which features a powerful image of the Oscar-winning actor, marking the first time the publication has featured the work of a Black photographer on its cover.

The historic image of Davis, shot by photographer Dario Calmese, shows the 54-year-old actor in profile, her back facing the camera.

In her interview, Davis, who played the role of maid Aibileen Clark, who worked for a white family in the 1960s, said The Help was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

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Davis received an Oscar nomination for her role in The Help but now she has criticized the narrative of the movie for telling the story through the perspective of the white characters.

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“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.

Click to play video 'Viola Davis speaks about growing up in poverty following Oscars win' Viola Davis speaks about growing up in poverty following Oscars win
Viola Davis speaks about growing up in poverty following Oscars win

“The white audience at the most can sit and get an academic lesson into how we are. Then they leave the movie theatre and they talk about what it meant. They’re not moved by who we were.

“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).”

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In the interview for the magazine, which hits newsstands on July 21, Davis says the publication has “had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers.”

Radhika Jones, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, writes in the issue that 17 Black people have been on the cover in the 35 years between 1983 and 2017, and that she was determined to fix the lack of representation when she took over the job.

She said in publishing Calmese’s photo of Davis on the cover, “we celebrate him and honour his vision at this heightened moment in American history.”

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In her Vanity Fair interview, Davis also discusses the recent racial justice protests, her upcoming role as Michelle Obama, her impoverished upbringing in Rhode Island, and the challenges of being a Black woman in Hollywood, among other topics.

—With files from The Associated Press

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