It was 2011 when Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were both nominated for Oscars for The Help. The film, which was set in the South during the civil rights movement, received major backlash for its historical inaccuracies, use of a white savior to tell the perspective of black women, and reliance on stereotypes. It added to the constant Hollywood problem where black actors and actresses rarely get to be the center of their own stories.
Six years after The Help’s release, Davis has finally spoken out about her true feelings about the film. In a podcast interview with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Davis said that she loved the "premise of the film," but that it ended up actually not being told from a maid’s perspective and sugarcoated.
"The anger, the vitriol and the hatred that they would have towards these white women if they were asked, if they were put in a situation where they were isolated, would have been vocalized," Davis said. "You didn't see none of that!”
She continued, "That's the issue I have with a lot of our stories. By the time… it makes it to the screen, the truth is so filtered down, and then it's given to you to make you feel very comfortable."
Davis and Spencer were again nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Supporting Actress category on Tuesday. This time, though, the films they're representing have stories told from the authentic (and historically accurate) perspective of black women.
In Fences, Davis plays Rose Lee Maxson in the screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play of the same name. In Hidden Figures, Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, a real-life mathematician at NASA who helped launch the first human space program in the United States.
The Oscars still have more changes to make before they truly represent all of America. But the movement in Davis' career from The Help to Fences is surely a sign of progress. It shows that, when people of color are given control over their own stories, racial stereotypes have a way of disappearing from the screen. What could be more important than that?
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.