Oscar nominated actress Viola Davis admits she had “a lot of issues” with the film that gave her her big break, but said she knew it would change her career.
Viola played maid Abileen Clark in the big screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling book The Help – which also starred Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain.
She received best actress nominations from Bafta and the Academy in 2011 for the role, but said she had significant problems with the film.
Speaking during a wide-ranging career retrospective at Bafta in London, she said: “I knew it was a best-selling book and I knew it would change my career.
“I loved the premise of it. I love Tate Taylor (the director) and I love all those amazing women in it. I did feel like it was an important story.
“But I had a lot of issues with The Help.”
The movie shows an aspiring author in the Deep South in the 1960s trying to write a book about the African American maids’ point of view on the white families they work for.
Viola, who recently won a Golden Globe for her role in Fences, said: “I absolutely love the premise. I love the fact Skeeter (played by Emma) said ‘I’m going to write a story from the maids’ perspective’.
“I don’t feel like it was from our perspective. “That was the problem I had with it and I knew I had it from the very beginning.”
Viola said the “anger, vitriol and hatred” she believed the maids would have had for their white employers would have been vocalised if they were given the chance, but the movie shied away from making the black women angry.
Addressing a famous scene in which a maid, played by Octavia, baked her own faeces into a pie for her racist employer, Viola said: “You see Minny putting the s*** in the pie, but a huge part of that is comedic so it’s an easier pill to swallow.”
She said lines where her character made caustic remarks about her employers were cut for being “too mean”, but there was no problem with the white characters spouting racist epithets.
She added that a scene where Minny was violently beaten by her husband and ran from the house with her barefoot children was also cut for being “too depressing”.
“It was not telling the story,” she said.
Viola said she believed the movie was so successful because white people had fond memories of their “co-mothers and the black women who loved them more than their own mothers probably did”.
She added: “They wanted to preserve that memory. They wanted to keep them pure.”
Receiving enthusiastic applause from the audience, she continued: “By the time you see the truth it is so filtered down and given to you that you feel very comfortable.”
She added: “There is a perception black actors are not as technically proficient. That is because we have a gag order on us.”
Viola was speaking at Bafta: A Life In Pictures, where she was interviewed by journalist Danny Leigh.