Viola Davis Talks About Her SAG Win and Facing Criticism of Her Role in ‘The Help’

Viola-Davis-sag-award-winnerFinding out that you’ve been nominated for an acting award in the same category as Glenn Close and Meryl Streep must be like finding out you’re running the 100 meter dash against the gold medal and the silver medal winners of that event at the last Olympics. 

That’s the predicament that Viola Davis, star of The Help, found herself in during this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.  However, Davis was not only awarded Best Actress, but also won Best Ensemble with her talented co-stars.

“I feel pretty overwhelmed with my name being called,” Davis said about the film’s best ensemble win.  Yet, when it came to her winning the award for Best Actress, Davis was more talkative.  She admits she doesn’t feel up to the award’s caliber, saying, “I just don’t see the ‘best’ thing going on.  It’s hard. Every time I start a new job, I feel like I start with a clean slate. … I feel like everyone is going to find out what a hack I am. And it’s strange to triumph over Meryl Streep.” 

However, the role has recently been criticized, with some — including Spike Lee collaborator James McBride — saying that it is demeaning for an African-American woman to win an award for playing a maid, especially since the first African-American Oscar winner, Hattie McDaniel, won an Oscar for playing a similar role in 1940 (detractors point to that as a sign of a lack of progress for African-American actors).  Davis claims that the criticism helped her understand what her character, Aibileen, experienced.  “During the course of promoting the movie, I found myself having to defend my choice in playing a maid.  I’ve had to find my voice. I had to find my voice as a woman of color, as an artist. And I never thought I would be put in a position like that. I’m usually in the background of movies. All of a sudden, I was being put to the test, being pushed against the wall. It kind of made me feel what Aibileen felt.”

Regardless of opinions on her role, Davis finds herself matched up with Streep and Close again for the Best Actress Oscar.  She might have to enduring criticism for a bit longer, but it’s clear the award-winning actress will greet it with a smile on her face.

Via The Los Angeles Times


  1. Sharon Denise Toomer via Facebook

    January 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    What I found most telling in this article is Viola feeling like she had to defend herself, her decision making and that she imagined how Aibelene must have felt. What I find telling is the nasty, hyper criticism of the Help was directed at the total film and that included Viola because she was THE film’s star. To make that harsh criticism worse is that it was from her own community and the implication is V ~ a gifted, talented artist, with years in the game and intelligence to boot ~ made a bad, wrong decision to play that part. And to compare that part to mammified haddie mcdowell in GWTW is not a fair comparison. The writer regalized (not a word, I think) viola’s character. She was not a caricature like tyler perry does to Black women. Folks can be salty about hollywood’s treatment of our image, but I don’t think this was the project to get twisted about. I read the book and watched the film. I do, however, want the real aiblile clark to get money for that story based on her life. I think the writer, kathryn Stockett, in her own storytelling proved that she did indeed steal the real aibilene’s life and exploited it.

  2. Ernest Champell via Facebook

    January 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    i recently saw the film and enjoyed it and thought viola’s character was great my grandmother was a maid up north who would tell me of similar stories. i think she was great and the criticism is not warranted.

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