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Viola Davis Says TV Still Hasn't Progressed on Race: 'I Don't See A Lot of Dark Skinned Women in Lead Roles'

"People can't reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality," she said.
  • In a conversation for Variety's Women In Motion series at the Cannes Film Festival, Viola Davis opened up about racism in Hollywood, revealing that How to Get Away With Murder didn't open as many doors as she'd hoped. Davis won an Emmy for her role in the ABC drama, but she says it did little to change how television represents Black women onscreen.

    “I know that when I left How to Get Away With Murder — I don’t see a lot of dark skin women in lead roles on TV, not even on streaming services,” said Davis. “So once again, that goes into ideology and ethos and mentality, and that’s speaking in the abstract. Why aren’t you hiring a dark skinned woman when she walks in the room and you say she blows you away? Then create space and storytelling for her so when she thrives she’s not thriving in spite of her circumstances, she's thriving because of the circumstances.”

    Even for Davis, an A-list actor and producer, "expansive" roles are still limited.

    “If I wanted to play a mother whose son — we lived in a challenging neighborhood, a low-income neighborhood, and he was a gang member who died in a drive by shooting, I could get that made,” she said. “If I played a woman who was looking to recreate herself by flying to Nice and sleeping with five men at the age of 56, looking like me, I’m going to have a hard time pushing that one, even as Viola Davis.”

    “People can’t reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality,” she added. “It’s too much for them.”

    Davis also discussed the overt racism she has experienced in the industry, including from a film director who called her by the name of his maid, Louise. “I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago,” she said. “But what you have to realize is that those micro-aggressions happen all the time.”

    The actor added that in the past, she was rejected for roles for being not "pretty enough." Said Davis, “A lot of it is based in race. It really is. Let’s be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blonde hair, blue eyes and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now. We could talk about colorism, we could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”

    Deena ElGenaidi's writing has been featured in Nylon, MTV News, Insider, The AV Club, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @deenaelg.

    TOPICS: Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder, Cannes Film Festival