Viola Davis could win an Oscar for her role in "The Help."
I haven't yet seen Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," but that said, right now I'd be thrilled if the best-actress Oscar goes to Viola Davis in "The Help."
The film, which comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, was based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel. While "The Help" was generally praised by critics, there was also plenty of debate about the racial issues depicted in it. Some didn't think that Stockett, who is white, could have fairly depicted the lives of African-American maids in the 1960s. Stockett and director Tate Taylor grew up as friends in Jackson, Miss., and both have defended their take on the film.
But it would be a shame if the controversy overshadowed in any way Davis' performance. As Aibileen Clark, a maid who's helped raise 17 white children, she's a revelation.
Davis was able to reach into her own past for fodder for her role. She told NPR that her own mother was the oldest of 18 children and picked cotton on a South Carolina plantation.
As readers of the book know, the film couldn't possibly include every plotline from the novel. Entertainment Weekly has a clip of a deleted scene that's on the DVD and Blu-ray, and it's worth watching. Davis' Aibileen gets a call from friend and fellow maid Minny Jackson (the wonderful Octavia Spencer) and tries to talk her into leaving her abusive husband. I agree with the EW commenters who think that the scene, had it not been deleted, could have increased Oscar chances for both Davis and Spencer. It's almost impossible to watch it without rooting for Spencer's character to take Davis' advice and "just keep on walking."
In another clip on the DVD, Davis talks about the role, and how it gave her a chance not just to play an intriguing character, but to "illuminate a part of our history that we have a tendency to be silent about."
Davis' Aibileen carries a sadness within her. She recently lost her own adult son and while Davis never overplays that, it's very much a part of her character. Even if you didn't know about the death, you can sense that she's holding something in her heart that she'll never get over. She manages to walk the careful line that an African-American domestic had to walk in the 1960s South without ever coming across as a pushover. Small gestures, the very way she speaks, even the way she walks, suggest another life that she's learned to keep carefully hidden. Yet when she plays with her latest charge, young Mae Mobley, she's less guarded. The scene where she walks away from Mae Mobley for the last time is as heartbreaking as anything in the movies this year.
Have you seen "The Help"? Do you think Davis is deserving of an Oscar? Tell us in the comments.