Viola Davis is, without a doubt, one of the greatest actresses of our generation. Unfortunately, it’s only been within the last decade that she’s garnered the recognition she deserves. The 53-year-old began her ascent to the A-list with her first Academy Award nomination for Doubt in 2009. She followed up her first nom with a second in 2012 for The Help before winning her first Oscar in 2017 for her performance in Fences.
Though these three major roles appear to lay the groundwork for Davis’s awe-inspiring career, it turns out that one of them is a source of regret for the actress.
While promoting her upcoming heist film Widows at TIFF, Viola told the New York Times that her role in The Help is one of her career regrets. “Not in terms of the experience and the people involved because they were all great,” Davis clarified. “The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than [The Help director] Tate Taylor.”
She continued, “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. 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.”
Davis made a similar point during the TIFF press conference for Widows, explaining that she measures her cultural impact and significance in place of success.
“I think that I already sort of achieved success,” she began. “You get a certain amount of money, you buy a house, you’re on a TV show … and then you’re tired. You’re just tired and disillusioned. And frankly, just being honest, you’re miserable a lot. You’re like ‘I’m tired … I don’t want to go to work … People don’t even know how f—king hard this is … ' You start complaining in your 8,000 square foot house, and you realize that you’ve missed the final step, which is not success, it’s significance."
She continued, "So how do I measure significance? I measure significance living a life bigger than myself. That’s why I have my production company. When I became an actress, I became an actress because I saw Miss Cicely Tyson in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She gave me permission to do it, but she also showed me a way out of poverty, of feeling invisible, and I just feel like the narratives that are created in Hollywood right now have got to become inclusive. They have got to reflect the changing world, the changing cultures.
"I feel like I always have to honor that little girl who’s always sitting beside me on the couch, the 8-year-old girl who’s sort of excited about the 53-year-old she gets to become. So in order to satisfy, I want that little girl to be able to see images that she can attach herself to, and to give her permission to feel like she is a part of — that she has been seen. I no longer want to see a movie where the person of color is introduced in the second scene and they’re the bus driver, the social worker, the lawyer … You know. And people are saying ‘Well at least they’re a part of the cast! They’re not a part of the main storyline, but they’re there!’ It’s not enough for them to just be there. I want them to be in the story and in the narrative.”