Viola Davis Calling Out Hollywood on Bad Roles for Black Actresses

Viola Davis may be on her way to the small screen, but she’s calling out the business of getting movies onto the silver screen on her way there. Specifically, how often black actresses appear there, and what kind of roles they play when they do.

In her big screen roles, Davis has made a name for herself in heavy dramatic fare such as the Academy Award nominated film The Help (for which Davis received a Best Actress nomination) and the Academy Award nominated film Doubt(for which Davis received a Best Supporting Actress nomination). While she appears in heavy films, Davis usually supports the narrative for another, often white protagonist. According to Davis, that’s part of the problem.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Davis said, “Even when I get the fried-chicken special of the day, I have to dig into it like it’s filet mignon,” as an analogy for the state of roles offered to black actresses. According to Davis, even when a role is pitched to her as a meaty one in which she’ll get to work with A-list actors, she discovers when she reads the script that she appears for a page or two, the equivalent of one or two minutes of screen time. Davis continues by saying, “I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish.”

Viola Davis has a point. Of the ten highest grossing films of 2014 to date, none of them has had a black actress or actor as a protagonist. When a film with a largely black cast does top the box office, it’s treated as an anomaly, a sign that “mainstream” audiences can indeed enjoy a film led by an actor of color. For example, this weekend the Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba thriller No Good Deed led the box office grosses ahead of the softer family film Dolphin Tale 2.

Davis may find her new role much more to her liking. Davis will play defense attorney and professor Annalise Keating in the new Shonda Rhymes drama How to Get Away with Murder. Davis describes the character as messy, mysterious, sexual and vulnerable, a role far away from the story bolstering, kindly characters she’s played in the past.

How to Get Away with Murder will air at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights as part of ABC’s new “Shondaland” block of programming which includes Grey’s Anatomy. The Thursday night block also includes Scandal, which made series lead Kerry Washington a household name and one of the few black women at the helm of a successful television series.

Share this article: Viola Davis Calling Out Hollywood on Bad Roles for Black Actresses
More from Inquisitr