Viola Davis on 'The Help,' challenges of being a Black woman in Hollywood

"My entire life has been a protest," she said.
/ Source: TODAY

Viola Davis exudes strength and heart in the characters she plays on screen — but those are also two traits the Oscar-winning actress possesses in real-life.

Davis, 54, looks absolutely regal on the cover of the latest issue of Vanity Fair, in which she opened up about what it's like to be Black in Hollywood and how she feels now about starring in the controversial film "The Help."

Viola Davis is on the cover of the latest issue of "Vanity Fair."Vanity Fair

"Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity," Davis said. "They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but...it’s catering to the white audience. The white audience at the most can sit and get an academic lesson into how we are. Then they leave the movie theater and they talk about what it meant."

But the problem, she said is, "They’re not moved by who we were.”

"The Help," which was released in 2011, became the most popular movie on Netflix in the weeks after the killing of George Floyd as many people turned to it hoping to understand the Black experience in the United States.

Davis has previously criticized the film for telling the story of Black maids from the point of view of Emma Stone's character, who is a journalist in the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard, a white actress who also starred in the film, urged fans last month to "go further" than "The Help" and provided a list of other movies people should watch to begin to understand systemic racism.

“There’s no one who’s not entertained by 'The Help,'" Davis said. "But there’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself, and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to (tell the whole truth)."

While Vanity Fair has become more diverse since editor-in-chief Radhika Jones' tenure, Davis said many magazines still aren't putting Black women on their covers.

"There’s a real absence of dark-skinned Black women," she said. "When you couple that with what’s going on in our culture, and how they treat Black women, you have a double whammy. You are putting us in a complete cloak of invisibility."

Davis has also been busy protesting systemic racism and the killing of Black people in the United States. After the death of George Floyd, she called her friend and neighbor, Octavia Spencer, and told her she planned to march.

Spencer said she talked Davis out of it due to concerns about the coronavirus and potentially jeopardizing the health of vulnerable family members. The friends instead decided to stage their own socially distant protest with a close-knit group.

They stood on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City wearing masks. Davis held a sign saying "AHMAUD ARBERY," who was killed while he was out for a jog.

Davis said they got "a lot of beeps" from people honking their horns in support and "a few fingers."

She's used to it.

"My entire life has been a protest," she said.