In 2012, Viola Davis was nominated at the Oscars for her performance in “The Color of Feelings”, where she played a servant in Mississippi in the 60s. A drama in which the actress regrets having played.
The colour of feelings : a book for change
Before moving towards the thriller and the action with The Train Girl, Ma and Ava, Tate Taylor signs the drama The colour of feelings, sorti en 2011. Adaptation du bestseller The Help by Kathryn Stockett, the film is set in segregationist Mississippi from the early 1960s.
After graduation, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to live with his mother Charlotte (Allison Janney) in her hometown of Jackson. As she finds a job as a columnist in the local daily, which could lead her to a career as a journalist and novelist, Skeeter again witnesses the region’s racism and the appalling treatment of domestic workers.
While her childhood friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) indulges in hatred and silliness, the writer hopes she can turn things around. She decides to embark on the creation of a book: the collection of testimonies from servants on their living and working conditions, launched thanks to the participation of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).
Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tison, Mary Steenburgen et Christopher Lowell complètent la distribution de The color of feelings. In 2012, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were nominated for the Oscars for their performance. The feature film is also in the Best Film category. Only Octavia Spencer wins a statuette.
A feature film that divides
If it wants to be a choral film exposing many points of view, The colour of feelings most often adopts Skeeter’s gaze, even though the narrator is Aibileen. It is the journalist who gives the impetus for the development of the book The Help. An aspect of the story that divides on release, in part because it downplays the efforts of the civil rights movement.
In an open letter published in 2011, the Association of Black Women Historians deplores the distorted representation of servants and the African-American community in the Mississippi of the 60s. She notably proposes a “resurrection” of “Mammy”, described in the following way by the organization:
A mythical stereotype of women forced, either by slavery or by segregation, to serve white families.
The association then specifies:
Depicted as an asexual and loyal babysitter, Mammy’s caricature allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to grueling, low-paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this recent iteration is disturbing as it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside there.
Before discussing the absence of situations experienced by domestic workers such as sexual harassment or physical abuse in the feature film, the Association of Black Women Historians declares in the preamble of this press release:
Despite marketing efforts to sell the book and film as the progressive tale of a triumph over racial injustice, The colour of feelings counterfeits, ignores, and trivializes the experience of black domestic workers. In the end, the film is not a story of millions of black workers (…), but the story of the emancipation of a white woman.
The regrets of Viola Davis
In 2020, during an interview for Vanity Fair, Viola Davis explains that she shares this opinion and that she regrets having participated in the film. If she praises the talent of Tate Taylor and that of her partners on the screen, the actress thus affirms:
Part of me feels like I’ve betrayed myself, because I acted in a movie that wasn’t ready to tell the whole truth.
Two years earlier, the Oscar winner for Fences already ensures with the New York Times :
In the end, I had the feeling that it was not the voices of the maids that were being heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. It’s my grandmother. It’s my mother. And I know that if you make a movie where the idea is to reveal what it’s like to work for white people and raise their children in 1963, I want to see what they really think. And I never hear it in the movie.
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The Color of Feelings: why Viola Davis regrets having participated in the film? – CineSeries