Viola Davis says she hesitated before taking on the role of Aibileen, the woman at the center of The Help: "Aibileen is a maid in Mississippi in the early 1960s — and being an African American actress playing a maid in 2011 has a certain stigma attached to it." Some have argued that such roles reinforce stereotypes.
See also: Harrison Ford, Hollywood Hero.
In the end, Davis — an Oscar nominee for Doubt (see clip below) — took the part. "The richness and beauty of the character were too wonderful to pass up," she says. Based on Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel, the film (costarring Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney, among others) focuses on maids, and their employers, in the Civil Rights era. "Aibileen doesn't have the characteristics of a hero," says Davis. "What she has is courage and extraordinary compassion."
The Help opens in theaters on August 12, 2011.
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