"Domestic workers, I have realized during the whole course of 'The Help,' have been in a lot of ways diminished. Their value has been diminished. And I think that I'm here to say no to that," she said.
Davis joined hundreds of real-life domestic workers at the gala to accept NDWA's inaugural Voice of Love Award, given for her efforts in support of domestic workers' rights.
She looked far removed from her character in "The Help," Aibileen Clark, who daily dons an apron and white saddle shoes to clean and cook for a white family in the 1960s-era dramatic comedy. On Wednesday night, Davis accepted the award for her portrayal in a sleek black satin mini-dress with simple rows of gems wrapped around her wrist.
But Davis said that she tried to transcend the costume when playing Clark.
"I think that there's a lot of dignity in playing a maid. I think that there's not a lot of dignity in playing a stereotype. I think that there's a difference," she said, explaining that she tried to bring a human element to her portrayal, which earned her an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination.
Coming next for Davis are a number of mainstream films, including "Enders' Game" and the movie based on the young-adult novel Beautiful Creatures, but she and her husband have also acquired the rights to the book Barbara Jordan: American Hero, which chronicles the life of the first Southern black female congresswoman.
Davis said that taking on the project was an "honor," and noted a stirring speech given by Jordan at the 1976 Democratic National Convention as part of what struck her about the public figure.
"Her [convention speech] is one of the best speeches ever spoken. I get chill-bumps when I hear it. She just literally spoke to the American people," she said.
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