Viola Davis on why her role in “Beautiful Creatures” changed from a maid to a librarian

The actress says "people need to see an African-American in the 21st century integrated" in life, not in servitude

Topics: Viola Davis, The Help, beautiful creatures, African Americans, maid, librarian, Movies,

Viola Davis, nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for her role as a maid in the civil rights era-set movie “The Help,” will most likely never play a maid again. She recently told CNN, “I’m tired of that,” explaining, “Me and Octavia [Spencer], Aunjanue Ellis, Roslyn Ruff – we all played maids in ‘The Help’ and it was fabulous. It’s a fabulous story because we were personalized and all of those things, but I think that people need to see an African-American in the 21st century integrated in the life of this town and family who’s not in servitude.”

Except that in “Beautiful Creatures,” the book that Davis’ next movie is based upon, her character Amma is, again, a maid. She told the Hollywood Reporter that “[Director] Richard LaGravenese forbade us from reading the book. He said, “Do not touch the book.” (Naturally, Davis then got the book). “I read half of it and then I put it down because Amma is a maid, and I just said, ‘OK, there’s nothing I can learn from this.’ ”

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But then LaGravenese changed the character for the film adaptation, who became a hybrid of Amma and a local librarian who has magical powers. Davis called it “a total reimagining of the character,” and said that even though it veers from the original text, the change makes sense in the greater context of the movie:

I’m going to be confident and bold and say I like it because, listen, I understand and I respect the book and I think the book is wonderful but this is 2013 and I think that when black people are woven into the lives of characters in 2013, then I think they play other roles than maids. I think that that needs to be explored and I hope that the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief and embrace what Richard LaGravenese has given them.

The movie explores the budding romance between Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena Duchaness (Alice Englert), a mysterious newcomer with supernatural powers, set in a fictional South Carolina town.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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