Viola Davis just made another stride in a career that has been quickly gaining speed over the last few years. She accepted the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series for her role as defense law professor Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murder. As many award winners have done before, Viola used the moment not just to bask in her glory, but to talk about how further progress can be won for diversity in television. Davis began her speech with an anecdote about her daughter.
“When I tell my daughter stories at night, inevitably, a few things happen. Number one, I use my imagination. I always start with life, and then I build from there. And then the other thing that happens is she always says, ‘Mommy, can you put me in the story?’ And you know, it starts from the top up.”
“From the top up” seems to be a not-so-veiled criticism from Viola toward the upper echelons of Hollywood. The Oscars — for which Davis has been nominated twice — were recently put under a great deal of criticism for failing to nominate a single person of color for an acting category this year — whether that be black, Latino, or Asian. That’s despite the fact that the Census Bureau predicts that whites will no longer be the majority in the U.S. in less than 30 years, reported the Economist.
The same debate has been raging in film and television criticism for much of this year. New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley came under fire not only for misgendering Jeffrey Tambor’s Transparent character in a review where she dismissed his Golden Globe win as “politically correct,” but she also invoked the ire of Viola when she referred to Davis as “less classically beautiful” than lighter-skinned black women like Halle Berry and Kerry Washington. Similar to comments she made in her SAG speech, Viola called out Stanley’s bias when she accepted another best actress award at the People’s Choice Awards earlier this month.
“Thank you Shonda Rhimes, [producer] Betsy Beers and [creator] Peter Nowalk for thinking of a leading lady who looks like my ‘classic beauty. I’m so proud to be an actor and so happy to do what I do. And I’m so happy that people have accepted me in this role at this stage in my career.”
Viola Davis will conclude the first season of How To Get Away With Murder next month on ABC.