Lately, Viola Davis has been very vocal about the qualms faced by women of color in the entertainment industry. In addition to a noticeable pay gap and a lack of roles designed for women of color, Davis also brought attention to the need for people of color at the executive tables. While dealing with these indecencies, Davis has found a light through her leading role in the upcoming film, Widows.
PHOTO: The Wrap
One scene in particular that Davis brings attention to in her interview with The Guardian is a steamy kissing scene with actor Liam Neeson.
“For me, this is something you’ll not see this year, last year, the year before that. That is, a dark-skinned woman of color, at 53 years old, kissing Liam Neeson. Not just kissing a white man, Liam Neeson, a hunk. And kissing him sexually, romantically.”
Davis also expressed that she believes many people will overlook the kiss as just another scene, but she hopes people recognize its significance.
“Nobody will pay attention to that. And if you mention it to someone, I think they’ll feel like it’s hip and it’s funky that they didn’t notice it. But will you see it again? If you don’t think that’s a big deal, then tell me, why isn’t it happening more?” She sighs while speaking to The Guardian reporter. “There’s apart of me that can answer that.”
Another unanswered question in the movie industry, according to Davis, is why the “regular Black woman” is missing in the film.
“Not anyone didactic, or whose sole purpose in the narrative is to illustrate some social abnormality. There’s no meaning behind it, other than she is just there […] I would love to have a Black female Klute, or Kramer, or Unmarried Woman, or Annie Hall. But who’s gonna write it, who’s gonna produce it, who’s gonna see it, again and again and again?”
Steve McQueen, director of Widows, gave Davis an opportunity to step closer to her desire to play and see a regular Black woman on screen. Davis says that McQueen really allowed her to be the lead and felt as though he listened to her when she shared tidbits about the Black female experience.
The role was not created with a Black woman in mind as the lead, but Davis knew if she turned it down, a white actress most likely would have taken her place. Also, instead of basing the film in London like the 1983 miniseries written by Lynda LaPlante, the filmmakers interestingly opted to shoot in Chicago.
Beyond the character she plays for the film, Davis admits to The Guardian that she has lost many years of her career because she tried so hard to fit in and make it in the industry.
“I was trying to fit in, stifling my voice, stifling who I was, in order to be seen as pretty, in order for people to like me. And then going home, not being able to sleep and having anxiety. I have found that the labeling of me, and having to fit into that box, has cost me a great deal. I’ve had a lot of lost years.”
She also revealed in her interview that she did a lot of things she did not necessarily believe in, in hopes of advancing her career. Some of those beliefs can be seen in the way she wore her hair or the way she dressed. For this film, however – through the encouragement of McQueen – she wore her natural hair. In years prior, you would have never seen the Academy-Award winning actress do so.
It seems Davis is not only embracing her own style more these days, but she is also determined to be upfront and honest with her feelings, including her take on The Help and how it was not the film she had hoped it would be.
“Listen, ‘The Help’ changed my life in a lot of different ways. First of all, the friendships that I got – that experience is something I know I’ll never have again. And Tate [Taylor, the director] is a great collaborator. I don’t want them to feel that I am blasting them in any way. It has nothing to do with the players. It has something to do with the culture – that I don’t feel that people want to see, want to hear that voice in that time period. Because what it will become is an indictment, and it shouldn’t be. I look back at that movie as a missed opportunity… For me, it was just too filtered down. I know Jim Crow, I understand that time period. It’s a 100-year time period that was rife with lots of violence and anger, and people with lost dreams and hopes. I wanted the frustration and that anger to be more palpable.”
PHOTO: The Guardian
When it comes to opportunities in the film industry, Davis recognizes women of color often have to take matters into their own hands if they want to see the changes they desire.
“The Forbes list of the top 10 highest-paid actresses are all Caucasian. Some of them haven’t even done a film in the past year, and they’re still up there,” Davis stated to The Guardian.
But among all the things that could be written off as negatives, Davis remains hopeful for the future and will continue being honest because she believes it is her responsibility as a woman of color with a platform.
“I feel it’s my responsibility – just as a person who’s taking up space, and also because I have a production company – to be honest with them. Just because were present 20% of the population, doesn’t mean we just want 20% of the pie. Or even 30% of the pie. We want the whole pie. We know we’re not going to get it, but I’m not going to tell my daughter, at eight years old, ‘Genesis, when you go out into the world, just be satisfied with that 20% because that’s all you’re allotted – that’s all you represent.’”
In the future, Davis hopes to take on more roles that are real-life reflective because that is what she feels is needed now more than ever.
“I’ve gone through the heartache of losing a parent, the joys of being married, the joys of getting a job. I’ve lived a life, so when I read a script and it strikes me as being disingenuous – a person who’s not fully explored – that’s what stops me.”
PHOTO: The Guardian
Aligned with her desire to represent real Black women, the next project in the works for Davis is her role as Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and the first woman to run for president of the United States. Also, coming up on November 6th, Widows will be released to theaters nationwide, however, Davis’ anxiety surrounding the release is high.
“If it doesn’t do well, then I would take it personally. It’s the first movie that I can really say I was a lead in. So it’s more of a statement about me.”
But she is also in the business of letting things be, and that attitude is the one she will lean on to get her through.
“I know that whatever the results are going to be, there’s a famous saying, ‘God willing and the creek don’t rise.’ Meaning, if I’m still alive, whatever it takes, I’m going to continue.”
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