'The Help' star Viola Davis reveals the big problem she had with the film

By Nick Bond

Emma Stone (left) and Viola Davis starred in The Help, a film which depicted the lives of black maids in Mississippi in the early 1960s.
Emma Stone (left) and Viola Davis starred in The Help, a film which depicted the lives of black maids in Mississippi in the early 1960s.

It's the film that made her a Hollywood A-lister - but six years on, Viola Davis has finally revealed that she had a lot of problems with box office hit The Help.

The film, focusing on the tense relations between black maids and their white employers in early 1960s Mississippi, received positive reviews from critics and grossed more than US$200 million ($275m) at the box office.

But 51-year-old Davis, who played maid Aibileen Clark in the story of a journalist (Emma Stone) who writes a book about what life as a black maid in the south is really like, said that she had "a lot of issues" with how the story of racial inequality in the deep south was told.

Asked about the film at a recent British Academy of Film and Television Arts event, Davis at first chose her words carefully.

"I'm always trying to be honest in my interviews. I knew it was a best-selling book, and I knew it would change my career.

That's what I knew," she told the crowd.

"I thought it was an important story. [But] I had a LOT of issues with The Help.

"I love the fact that [Emma Stone's character] Eugenia 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 being THE MAIDS' PERSPECTIVE. I don't feel like it was from our perspective, that's the problem I had with it. And I had it from the very beginning."

Davis said she felt the maids were presented as pious, saintly figures, making them more palatable to a mainstream audience. For instance, the maids refuse offers of payment to share their stories with Eugenia, the journalist who will write an expose on their lives.

"They would take the money. They would take the money! I mean, Aibileen was not even eating - she's barely making a living wage. They would take the money. That's number one," Davis said.

"Number two: The anger, the vitriol, and the hatred that they would have towards these white women would have been vocalised. You didn't see none of that! You saw Minny putting the s**t in the pie, but that was comedic in nature so it's an easier pill to swallow."

Davis said that other, grittier scenes were filmed that depicted the maids raging against their circumstances, but they were ultimately left on the cutting room floor.

"These black women would HATE these [white] women. But I think one of the reasons this film was so successful is because a lot of people were brought up with these co-mothers, these maids. I think they weren't shown as messy because nobody wants to stain that memory of that black woman who loved them probably more than their mothers loved them," she said.

Davis said she improvised one line during filming, a joke about "serving crackers to the crackers", that was cut from the film.

"And it was cut because they felt it was too mean. But there was no problem with the white characters saying n***er, n***er, n***er. So it was not telling the story, it just wasn't. And I felt the power of that narrative is."

Davis also shared details of another scene that ended up on the cutting room floor, in which she counselled Octavia Spencer's character about escaping domestic abuse. The scene didn't make it as it was deemed "too depressing".

"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," she said.

"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."

- news.com.au

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