Viola Davis: People don’t feel like black women ‘deserve the same empathy’

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle undertake their first official engagements together

Viola Davis is The One. Whenever I get down on Hollywood a little bit, or find people like Jennifer Lawrence exhausting, I just think about Viola Davis and I feel a little bit better. Viola is smart, she’s thoughtful, she’s passionate and she has, at this point, zero time for a–holes and douchebags. Viola covers the latest issue of Porter online (formerly The Edit?) and the entire photoshoot is gorgeous – you can see the photos here. Around the time of The Help, Viola stopped wearing wigs to every event, and started being photographed with her natural hair. It became a big deal, because Viola made it a big deal and because she’s awesome. Anyway, this interview is classic Viola – she talks about intersectionality, the lack of imagination in Hollywood, #MeToo, Time’s Up and a lot more. Some highlights:

The role of Annalise Keating: She knows these roles don’t come along all that often, “especially for a woman who looks like me. I’m 52 and darker than a paper bag. Women who look like me are relegated to the back of the bus, auditioning for crackheads and mammas and the person with a hand on her hip who is always described as ‘sassy’ or ‘soulful’. I’ve had a 30-year career and I have rarely gotten roles that are fleshed out, even a little bit. I mean, you wouldn’t think [these characters] have a vagina. Annalise Keating has changed the game. I don’t even care if she doesn’t make sense. I love that she’s unrestricted, that every week I actually have to fight [showrunner] Peter Nowalk not to have another love scene. When does that ever happen?”

Doing sex scenes at her age: “It costs me something because very rarely in my career – and in my life – have I been allowed to explore that part of myself, to be given permission to know that is an aspect of my humanity, that I desire and am desired. I always felt in playing sexuality you have to look a certain way, to be a certain size, to walk a certain way. Until I realized that what makes people lean in is when they see themselves. There’s no way I am going to believe that all women who are sexualized are size zero or two, all have straight hair, all look like sex kittens every time they go to bed and want sex from their man, all are heterosexual. I am mirroring women. I always say it is not my job to be sexy, it’s my job to be sexual. That’s the difference.”

The Oscar nominations for black artists after the #OscarsSoWhite campaign: “Here’s the thing: it’s not about the Oscars, it’s about how we’re included in every aspect of the movie-making business. When you look at a role as a director or producer that is not ethnically specific, can you consider an actor of color, to invest in that talent? The problem is, if it’s not an urban or civil rights drama, they don’t see you in the story. People need to understand that they shouldn’t see people of color one way. We don’t always have to be slaves or in the ’hood or fighting the KKK. I could be in a romantic comedy. I could be in Gone Girl. Or Wild. I could be seen the same way as Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore. I actually came from the same sort of background; I went to Juilliard, I’ve done Broadway. I’ve worked with the Steven Spielbergs. I should be seen the same way. That’s what I think is missing: imagination.”

Pay equality: “If Caucasian women are getting 50% of what men are getting paid, we’re not even getting a quarter of what white women are getting paid. We don’t even get the magazine covers white women get. And that is not speaking in a way that is angry. They deserve everything they get paid. Nicole Kidman deserves it. Reese Witherspoon deserves it. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Frances McDormand… But guess what – I deserve it too. So does Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Halle Berry. We’ve put the work in too. I don’t want to tell anyone what to do but I think Jessica Chastain did a really boss move with Octavia Spencer [on their latest, as yet untitled project] by saying Octavia’s got to be paid the same as her. She actually upped Octavia’s quote for that movie because she took a salary cut. I think Caucasian women have to stand in solidarity with us. And they have to understand we are not in the same boat. Even a lot of female-driven events in Hollywood, like power luncheons – which I’ve been to, and are awesome by the way – there will be 3,000 women in that room and five of them are women of color. And it’s by invite! So, you’re not even inviting us.”

Whether #MeToo would have gained traction if black women had come out first: “No. No. Recy Taylor came forward in 1944 when she was gang raped by six men in Alabama. Tarana Burke was the founder of the #MeToo movement in 2006. There are plenty of black women who have come forward. I don’t think people feel we deserve the same empathy. Or investment. We are not as valued. If the story wasn’t coming out of Hollywood, and the predator wasn’t someone like [Harvey] Weinstein, I don’t think it would have gotten the spotlight [either].”

[From Porter]

She says like a million other interesting quotes. She’s one of those women who I could listen to or read about for days, weeks, months. Like, she’s the best professor you could ever have – I want to sit there and listen to her lectures on justice and civil rights and intersectional feminism. Viola stays so clear-eyed throughout everything too – she’s not “slamming” or “shading” anyone. She believes Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon should be paid, should be respected, should get to tell their stories. But she just wants to remind everyone that Reese and Nicole (and a slew of other white men and women) could be and should be doing a lot more.

Embed from Getty Images

Cover courtesy of Porter, additional photo courtesy of Getty.

Related stories

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

67 Responses to “Viola Davis: People don’t feel like black women ‘deserve the same empathy’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. LilLil says:

    You know, I’m from a country that is whiter than Middle Earth, so for a very long time the only way I saw racism, in movies and TV shows, was very direct – things like lynching or the KKK. Reading here and realising how subtle it can be, and how institutionalised it is in places like America has been really eye opening.

    Viola is awesome.

    • Krill says:

      Yes, this is so important. Hollywood needs to stop it with their extremely overt depictions of racists. Its created a very restrictive definition of that word and created the insane idea that we are post racial.

      We all (most of us) know that slavery bad and seggregation is bad and violent rape of domestic servants is wrong. A more interesting movie would be about the modern day impact of slavery or how failing to acknowledge privillege excludes others and builds a de facto Jim Crowe system or how power differentials impact consent.

      • otaku fairy says:

        True. I also like what she said about not limiting POC to only one or two types of roles. The whole interview was great.

    • Erbs says:

      Yes. She is totally awesome and I want to be more like her.

  2. Neelyo says:

    Great quotes, stunning photos.

  3. Tan says:

    Viola is awesome

    And I don’t care how senseless HWTGAWM is,I love it

    She is spot on. Feminism is very exclusive
    We don’t get told half the story. Black women, women of color, south asian women: are always brushed aside .

    • Alexandria says:

      I am a minority in my country and in the midst of my job search. On social media for IWD, I only saw white and the majority faces. They’ve made it. On corporate posters or team lunches on social media, I see the same. Disheartened.

    • Shappalled says:

      True. Feminism is about more than making white women CEOs.

  4. Shappalled says:

    “Rarely in my career – and in my life – have I been allowed to explore that part of myself, to be given permission to know that is an aspect of my humanity, that I desire and am desired.’

    I relate. But at this stage of the game it seems easier to stop caring.

  5. Alix says:

    That cover is FIERCE!

  6. Cky says:

    She’s so badass.

  7. poppy says:

    HEAR THIS FIERCE BITCH PREACH.

    *bows down*

    we need more viola realness. every. damn. day.

  8. Lucy says:

    This woman is the embodiment of #goals.

  9. Lizzie says:

    she is an incredible, inspiring woman.

    on a superficial note: has she ever looked better? this is a gorgeous photo shoot. who knew i needed an off the shoulder blazer?

  10. Deanne says:

    Talented, beautiful, intelligent, classy and incredibly fierce. She’s everything. I love Viola Davis.

  11. supersoft says:

    I love her so, so much. And i say that as a white woman from Europe. She is just so super cool. #girlcrush

    • Tanesha86 says:

      I’m not sure why you felt the need to qualify your response. You can have an appreciation and respect for Viola Davis no matter what your ethnicity is. This almost sounds like a back handed compliment

      • LilLil says:

        Maybe because in some places in Europe ( like in my country for an example) there are virtualy no people of colour, so these experiences, especially with racism that is sort of subdued are pretty much non existent. So maybe the OP is saying she can appreciate her comments even if they are very far from her experiences?

      • supersoft says:

        No, sorry, what i meant was that i dont understand racism towards her AT ALL. I dont understand racism in general, but why belittle someone who is so beautiful, talented and successful on her own terms, and why does the color of your skin still play a role in being judged for movie roles?

  12. Jayna says:

    What a great interview.

  13. Tanesha86 says:

    The Queen has spoken and everything she says here is #facts

  14. Léna says:

    She deserves so much better than How to Get Away with Murder.

    • Jayna says:

      In her 50s and having a lead role on a major network channel , which means a good paycheck, when many actresses in their 50s can’t even get hired, is noting to sneeze at. She seems to love her character. And she can do small budget or large budget movies during the show’s hiatus while still having financial security from her TV show.

      • Léna says:

        I understand this for sure. But this show is such a mess now, and I was the first cheering for this TV show when it started. Now I can’t barely watch it, even though I would love to support her TV work more.

    • Jessica says:

      I think the show has lost some of it’s luster but she still won an Emmy for her performance that she rightfully deserves. When it isn’t serving her anymore she’ll move on.

  15. marianne says:

    ” We don’t always have to be slaves or in the ’hood or fighting the KKK. I could be in a romantic comedy. I could be in Gone Girl. Or Wild.”

    This is absolutely why I love that Black Panther was such a success. Its so refreshing see a majority black led film in the mainstream where the story/plot isnt centered around their oppression. Of course films about slavery or the civil rights movement or police brutality are important subjects but black people are more than that. Its important for little kids to see someone like T’Challa on screen.

    Also to a similar note, this is why Im happy to see Love, Simon on screens. No, its a POC led film. But I find LGBT movies have a similar problem where the majority of them tend to be “issue” related films. Its just nice seeing a movie a romantic teen comedy and the lead character just happens to be gay, you know?

    • Jayna says:

      I agree. It’s like Hollywood didn’t know how to do anything else but that storyline-wise with black actors. Thanks to black directors and black screenwriters, that’s changing. But as she said, white directors and producers and casting agents need to think outside the box when casting parts in movies or TV shows. Race shoudn’t play an issue when casting many parts, instead of going to the default white actors and actresses, with a token minority.

    • Kitten says:

      Agreed.

      And Black Panther was so amazing. We might actually go see it again this weekend because we loved it that much.

    • Ytbtet says:

      Gone girl well no very few women white or otherwise could play that role. That role was about a very thin, pretty blonde hair woman who has in a sense very entitled. She was type of person that people treated well and she definitely wasn’t woke to racial issues. She was self absorbed in a way only very privileged women are

      • Wisca says:

        There are very, very privileged women of color too. And yes thin. And entitled. This is the very challenge. How can we stretch our imaginations? Perhaps Gone Girl wasn’t the best example–I mean, I hear you, but what I said above is still true.

  16. Cher says:

    She is absolutely on point.

  17. OG OhDear says:

    I feel like (white) people are going to praise this to high heaven and then go back to talking crap about non-white people doing something while coddling white people who do the same thing.

    • Nicole says:

      Yep. Or they will parse this out and be woke for a bit. Or use Viola as an example of an “acceptable” black woman.

    • Miss Grace Jones says:

      We’re just one Beyonce article from all the fake woke commenters coming back with the diet racism after this tbh 🙄

      • Goldengirllover34 says:

        Say that again for the people in the back. Soon it will be back to the racist code words and statements that all black women are aware of and could spot even if blind.

      • LilLil says:

        What are code racist words? Could you give examples? I am really asking because I have no idea. What do people say in Beyonce articles?

      • Cky says:

        Do you mean dog whistles? How people use coded language in order to say discriminatory things in a societally acceptable way?

        I think we can discuss violas article and images without diverting the conversation. The woman is a goddess and takes no prisoners – role model territory for real.

    • Wisca says:

      I think we are in a moment of racial crisis. America really is changing even if we are in a moment of backlash. The backlash, in some ways, is proof of the difficulty of dislodging white supremacy even as white men still control the means of production. Having said that, in the cultural arena, things are changing. When I was a teen I was shocked to see a commercial with a black woman with natural hair living with her family in a brownstone in Brooklyn. I called everybody and told them to look out for it. (Later I learned that Spike Lee directed it.) My children would never notice something like that.

  18. Betsy says:

    She’s so thoughtful and intelligent. In the typical Hollywood piece, there’s so much blather. Here she doesn’t blather. And I very much appreciate her saying it’s her job to be sexual, not sexy. She’s right.

  19. Miss Grace Jones says:

    I’m so happy she brought up the lack of empathy using Tarana Burke and Recy Taylor. When I go to videos about metoo with the more popular white actresses or articles about them I see page after page of support and encouragement. Some doubters but the overall majority was sympathetic. When I watched a video of Miss Burke talking about the movement she started I see nothing but vitriol with people comparing her to animals and ugly men, asking how any man would want to rape her and saying she’s lying. I’ve seen arguments among arguments on how Cyntoia Brown deserved what she got, and deserves no sympathy despite being a trafficking victim because she’s nothing but a violent prostitute and all those kinds of things. R. Kelly is still being protected and his victims are slut shamed and victim blamed and no one is any rush to do something about him because black girls are hypersexualized and therefore seen as less than human even in our community where people would rather defend a predator than protect our girls. People don’t show up for black girls as much as black men being murdered. Kenneka Jenkins story was turned into a joke and gossip fodder. No white woman wants to psychoanalyze th reason Rihanna or Beyonce stayed with their abusive men without condescion and revulsion like they would with Johnny Depp’s ex. Serena Williams despite all of her resources still wasn’t listened to and almost died in childbirth because we’re seen as unfeeling animals. bell hooks really discussed this in selling hot pussy.

    • Onemoretime says:

      Yes to this 1000x
      Black women are seen as less but expected to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. To be responsible for everyone and everything with no reward of common decent humanity! Reminds me of the white feminist who blamed Oprah for Hillary losing because Oprah didn’t tell white women to vote for Hillary. Don’t get me wrong, even in the black community we are an afterthought.

      • Anna says:

        #Truth
        I am so disheartened by this that I don’t even date anymore. I’m 45 and still “got it” but I’ve just closed off that part of me because I can’t stand feeling like such an afterthought. I live in one of the largest U.S. cities but it’s pretty provincial, actually, and people’s attitudes are stuck in the 50s or even further back. I didn’t grow up like this and have dated quite widely in my slightly younger days but now I just feel like there’s no way I will not end up either a token or flavor of the day, otherwise no man (or woman) I meet would be interested in something real. BW are discardable and invisible even to our own.

    • HK9 says:

      @Miss Grace Jones **me bowing down and throwing roses** Black women are still seen as less than human but we’re expected to fix everyone’s problems while being blamed for everyone’s problems at the same time. The interview was insightful and well done and I’m glad Viola said it out loud.

      I cringe every time I hear other people, sometimes black men & women using these hypersexualized stereotypes against young girls like they don’t have nieces/daughters who are listening. What do they think is going to happen to them with those attitudes?

    • Anna says:

      Thank you, yes x 1000000

    • otaku fairy says:

      +∞.

  20. lucy2 says:

    As always, she is spot on about everything.
    I gave up on HTGAWM, but I am always rooting for her, so by extension the show, because I want her to get the big pay day and attention and awards she so truly deserves.

    This is an interesting moment for women in the industry, and I’m very curious to see who helps bring others up with them as they gain power and influence.

  21. Team Hardy says:

    Preach Viola. Preach.

  22. Inas says:

    I love her.

  23. minx says:

    Love her, and she is va-VOOM! So beautiful.

  24. Sarah says:

    She’s so beautiful. The Help is one of my all time favourite movies because of her and Octavia.

    • Deanne says:

      She was robbed at the Oscar’s. Meryl Streep winning for prosthetic makeup and a fake accent over Viola’s brave and heartbreaking performance was a travesty.

      • Rumi says:

        Completely agree. Oscars to me is less about whose acted best in their role and more about physical transformation and who acted more. Very rarely do they get it right.

  25. Marty says:

    I just love her so much and appreciate how well she spoke about representation, as opposed to the way Gina Rodriguez spoke on the the same subject last week. Both women are fighting for the same thing, but Viola doesn’t throw other PoC under the bus to make her point and she’s a real one for that alone.

    • A says:

      @Marty, correct me if I’m wrong, but is this the Gina Rodriguez article where she was talking about how if she got to make a Black Panther movie but with a Latinx cast, it would be about people coming over from Spain to colonize the Americas? Where she was both insensitive to the realities of what that time period actually was like AND the fact that there are black Latin Americans who actually exist too?

      • Marty says:

        Honestly, she’s been on some bills**t recently. I’m actually talking about the article from last week in which she said that both white and black actresses have a starting point in HW as opposed to Latinos who don’t. Once again, erasing Afro-Latinos from the narrative but always being incredibly dismissive of the struggles of black women in the film industry.

  26. reverie says:

    She’s right. She just is. My daughters are just kids but they will continue to grow up knowing the points she is making.

  27. stinky says:

    Viola’s talent as an actress stands ALONE. …
    Her paycheck should reflect that.

  28. DesertReal says:

    She’s right.
    She’s so wise, thoughtful, powerful, inspiring, strong, and beautiful, and I am so glad she has a platform to put into words things that have been plaguing a widely overlooked (and dismissed) part of society.
    It gives me warm fuzzies.

  29. Erica says:

    I came her to say that Viola Davis is amazingly beautiful and I love every lipstick she has ever worn. The HYGAWM scene where she removes her makeup is so great! Lip envy!

  30. A says:

    She’s so wonderful and so well-spoken, and it makes me a bit sad sometimes because you have this slew of intelligent, well-educated, beautiful black women in this industry who don’t see the recognition they deserve.

  31. HCR says:

    There’s an amazing long-read profile of her in the New Yorker (from last year I think). Yes, she’s amazing to listen to. Had a very tough, dirt poor, childhood (her father was a jockey).

  32. HCR says:

    sorry, not sure his actual profession. but he was a violent alcoholic. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/19/viola-davis-call-to-adventure

  33. lily says:

    Love her, she is the best, a queen.

  34. Jessica says:

    Love her. She’s able to say these things that *need* to be said, and so eloquently that those who need to hear it most can’t ignore. .