Viola Davis has spoken out about problems she had with The Help, the Civil Rights drama that won her an Oscar nomination in 2012, criticising the decision to sanitise the pain of the era in which it was set by leaving many of the film's tougher, more dramatic scenes on the cutting room floor.
The film, directed by Tate Taylor and adapted from a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, cast Emma Stone as a budding reporter exposing the racism experienced by maids working in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962.
Speaking at the BAFTA event A Life in Pictures, Davis revealed that she took the role as she sensed it would do wonderful things for her career, but that while she loved the film's premise and had great relationships with her director and costars, she had problems with the film's depiction of its black characters.
"I absolutely love the premise," she 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."
While she criticised aspects of the film she felt to be historically inaccurate (including the maids rejecting money for their stories, despite the film depicting them struggling to find scraps for food), she mostly condemned the sanitising of pain in order to make the film more palatable to mainstream audiences.
"The anger, the vitriol, and the hatred that they would have towards these white women if they were asked, if they were put in a situation where they were isolated, would have been vocalised. You didn't see none of that!"
Davis did concede that many of these moments were filmed, but they were ultimately cut in advance of the film's release.
"There was actually one scene where this one woman did express her anger, [but] it was removed from the movie."
She also revealed that a scene in which Octavia Spencer's character was beaten by her husband was removed from the film for being "too depressing", while a moment of improvisation between Davis and Spencer was cut for making their characters seem "too mean".
"It's the big scene where [all the people are] dancing," she said, "and Minny and Aibileen are in the back, and they're preparing the food and they're laughing about all the clothes that everyone is wearing and Minny says, 'Well I've got to go out there and serve some food', and I say 'Yeah, you serving crackers to the crackers!'
"And you know, cut. And it was cut because they felt it was too mean. But, there was no problem with the white characters saying 'n----- n----- n-----'".
"That's the issue I have with a lot of our stories. By the time... it makes it to the screen, the truth is so filtered down, and then it's given to you to make you feel very comfortable. It's not our job to make you feel comfortable, it really isn't. If you feel comfortable, then that is your journey, and your cross to bear. That is the beauty of art, the beauty of art is that we throw it to you, you receive it, and if you shift in some way, [then] we've done our job."
A barrage of criticism followed The Help upon its initial release, notably for the film's depiction of white characters as the somewhat architects of the Civil Rights movement. Noted feminist author Roxane Gay slammed the film for its "magical wish fulfilment", in which black characters were treated with condescension and white characters were depicted as "overly sympathetic".
"I have decided," she wrote in 2011, "[The Help] is science fiction, creating an alternate universe to the one we live in."
The Help grossed over $200 million worldwide in 2011, scoring Davis her second Oscar nomination. She is currently the favourite to be nominated and win an Oscar for her appearance in Fences, in which she plays a wife and mother in 50's Pittsburgh left stifled by her overpowering husband, played by Denzel Washington. Davis previously won a Tony for the same role during its Broadway revival in 2010, and won a Golden Globe for the role two weeks ago.
The BAFTA event saw the two-time Oscar nominee revisit her life and career, from her childhood poverty in Rhode Island to her experiences acting in church basements, basketball courts, regional theatre, Broadway and film.
While she shared anecdotes from working on some of her most acclaimed projects, among them Doubt and the TV series How to Get Away with Murder, she also talked about more left-field work, including a pre-fame appearance on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, in which she murdered an entire family with a baseball bat.
"Oh I loved it," she said. "What has happened for me in my career, and I think I could speak for many dark skinned women, is there is a sense that we want to be overly sanctified in roles [or] overly domesticated in roles. If we are mean and unlikeable, we're cussing someone out. [I've] cussed George Clooney out in so many movies... [So] then it was refreshing to play someone who literally was way more complicated in their pathology, that was not necessarily likeable or not likeable, but something different."