Viola Davis says she regrets her role in ‘The Help’

Viola Davis revealed that she has some regrets about one of her Oscar-nominated roles.

“Have I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and ‘The Help’ is on that list,” Viola Davis told the New York Times at the Toronto Film Festival Tuesday. As part of a slew of questions submitted by Times readers, Davis shared personal ruminations on her career, including the constant pressure to be a beacon of hope for women of color. “Being that role model and picking up that baton when you’re struggling in your own life has been difficult,” she said, but “I choose to be the leader.”

What does weigh on her conscience, she said, is her role in “The Help,” which has been criticized for over-crediting white women for improvements in race relations, instead of placing more emphasis on the real heroes of the story, black maids like Davis’ character Aibileen.

A question from a Chicago woman, who wondered whether Davis had ever regretted pulling a Burt Reynolds by passing on a momentous role, became a platform for Davis to discuss her thoughts about “The Help.”

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SUNDAY TODAY WITH WILLIE GEIST -- Pictured: (l-r) Viola Davis on May 5, 2019 -- (Photo by: Mike Smith/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 25: (L-R) Dolores Grant, actress Viola Davis, Annabella Grant and Dianne Davis-Wright attend "A Touch Of Sugar" New York screening at The Roxy Cinema on April 25, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 24: Viola Davis visits "Extra" at Times Square on April 24, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 25: Actress Viola Davis attends "A Touch of Sugar" New York screening at The Roxy Cinema on April 25, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Viola Davis speaks onstage at the 50th NAACP Image Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/02/10: Viola Davis and Julius Tennon at the EE British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 01: Viola Davis attends "Troop Zero" Premiere during 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Eccles Center Theatre on February 01, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! - "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Tuesday, January 29, included Viola Davis ("How to Get Away with Murder"), Charles P. Pierce ("Politics with Charles P. Pierce"), and musical guest Cypress Hill. (Randy Holmes via Getty Images) VIOLA DAVIS
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 13: Viola Davis walks onstage during the 24th annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 13, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards)
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - "Where Are Your Parents?" - Annalise gathers everyone together for the holidays while she wrestles over a difficult decision about her future, and the investigation into Miller's murder starts to widen on "How to Get Away with Murder," airing THURSDAY, FEB. 14 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (Mitch Haaseth/ABC via Getty Images) VIOLA DAVIS
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - "Be the Martyr" - Nate is on a mission to prove he was right about the culprit in his father's murder, while Bonnie begins to doubt herself; and Annalise turns the tables in the courtroom, on "How To Get Away with Murder," airing THURSDAY, JAN. 31 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (Gilles Mingasson via Getty Images) VIOLA DAVIS
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 05: Viola Davis attends The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 Women In Entertainment at Milk Studios on December 05, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05: Viola Davis accepts the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award onstage during The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 Women In Entertainment at Milk Studios on December 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter )
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Viola Davis attends the gala screening of "Widows" during AFI FEST 2018 at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Actress Viola Davis attends the discussion of the film 'Widows' at 92nd Street Y on November 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Actress Viola Davis visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center on November 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NBC)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 08: Viola Davis attends the premiere of 'Widows' during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/WireImage)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 08: SEPTEMBER 08: Viola Davis attends the premiere of 'Widows' during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Executive producer Viola Davis speaks onstage for 'The Last Defense' during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre on April 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Actor Viola Davis attends 'The Last Defense' during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre on April 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Julius Tennon and Viola Davis are seen on April 13, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by JNI/Star Max/GC Images)
Actor Viola Davis speaks onstage at the 2018 Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center on April 12, 2018 in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Viola Davis arrives at the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Viola Davis arrives at the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Actor Viola Davis speaks onstage during the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 02: Viola Davis arrives at the 11th Annual Celebration Of The 2018 Female Oscar Nominees Presented By Women In Film at Crustacean on March 2, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 02: Viola Davis attends Women In Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party presented by Max Mara and Lancome with additional support from Crustacean Beverly Hills, Johnnie Walker, Stella Artois and Cambria at Crustacean Beverly Hills on March 2, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Women in Film)
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - 'Nobody Else Is Dying' - Annalise and her inner circle deal with the aftermath of a suspicious death that culminates with a shocking arrest. Meanwhile, a new development involving one of their own changes everything, on the season finale of 'How to Get Away with Murder,' THURSDAY, MARCH 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Mitch Haaseth via Getty Images) VIOLA DAVIS
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20: Actress Viola Davis speaks during the Women's March Los Angeles 2018 on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)
HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - 'Lahey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania' - As Annalise's class-action case hangs in the balance, a meeting with the esteemed Washington D.C. fixer, Olivia Pope, proves to be crucial in getting the opportunity to argue her case in the nation's highest court. Meanwhile, Bonnie discovers concerning information pertaining to Simon that threatens to expose what really happened during night he was shot, on a special, TGIT Crossover Event episode of 'How to Get Away with Murder,' THURSDAY, MARCH 1 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (Mitch Haaseth/ABC via Getty Images) VIOLA DAVIS
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Viola Davis arrives at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Viola Davis arrives at 2018 American Rescue Dog Show on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)
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“I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” she said. “I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”

She was, however, adamant that it was a good experience and that she still thinks fondly of everyone she worked with.

“The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life,” she told the Times. “I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than [director] Tate Taylor.”

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