In an interview with eurweb’s Lee Bailey, actress Viola Davis shunned the burden of race representation when it comes to her upcoming role in The Help, where she plays a maid in 1960s Mississippi.
News of the movie has already set the Web abuzz with debate and trepidation about Black actresses playing such roles today, but Davis, one of the best and most dynamic film actresses of this generation, talks of her own personal journey into accepting the role.
On the character being viewed as subservient, Viola explained, "But I see her as more than that. You know, behind the nodding, behind the fact that you got to get by in life, we’re all survivors by nature, at all cost… [And] this is all we were back then. Every once in a while you had someone who broke the norm. But you were [mostly] maids. You were in subservient roles. A lot of us didn’t vote. And yet [my character] was able to break out of all that to pursue a goal and dream and to speak out. That’s liberation."
On how Black actresses are held to a different standard, Davis explained: “I feel one of the most revolutionary things you could do [in film] is to humanize the Black woman. And what I mean by that is that is… there is no way that I’m going to believe that if Meryl Streep or a Jodie Foster or any number of fabulous Caucasian actresses were sitting in front of you that anyone would ask them why they did a role if there was something about that character that they didn’t feel was politically correct. They would just look at the role. They would look at the complexities of it. Listen, Jodie Foster got an Oscar for The Accused where she’s in a bar, raped by several men. Meryl Strep has played a character who may or may not have murdered a child, but said it was killed by a dingo. And people say that was the most extraordinary role she’d been given. But me, as a Black actress, I can’t play a role that is so multifaceted… because there was something about it that offended a group of people. I can’t be vulnerable. I can’t be a woman who looks down because it’s disabling.”
She continued: “I just want to play a person. I don’t want to make a statement. I don’t want to play an image… I am an actor. At the end of the day, that’s who I am.”
The Help opens nationwide August 10.
(Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup)