Viola Davis lambasted Hollywood’s ongoing racism and unequal treatment of Black actresses when she sat down for a chat with Variety on Thursday.
The 56-year-old Oscar winner, who was in France to attend the Cannes Film Festival, recalled her shock when a film director she had known for a decade once mistook her for his maid.
The actress also criticized studios and executives for being unwilling to greenlight films starring Black actresses that featured similar storylines to popular movies starring white actresses.
Speaking out: Viola Davis, 56, recounted microaggressions she had experienced over the years, including being called by a maid’s name, while chatting with Variety at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday
Viola was dressed to impress for her interview in a chic scarlet double-breasted suit with a single button and an asymmetrical blazer with peaked lapels.
She paired it with wide-legged slacks and pointy-toed red heels.
The Fences star had her raven tresses styled naturally, which framed her elegantly made-up face, burgundy lipstick and irregularly shaped hoop earrings.
While speaking about the limits Hollywood imposes on what kind of roles she can take on, Viola recounted how she had been subjected to microaggressions by white men in powerful positions.
‘I had a director who did that to me. He said, “Louise!” I knew him for 10 years and he called me Louise and I find out that it’s because his maid’s name is Louise,’ she recounted. ‘I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago. But what you have to realize is that those micro-aggressions happen all the time.’
Red hot: Viola was dressed to impress for her interview in a chic scarlet double-breasted suit with a single button and an asymmetrical blazer with peaked lapels
Awkward: The actress, who played a maid in The Help (pictured), said a director called her ‘Louise,’ the name of his maid, despite having known him for 10 years
The actress, who had earned her second Academy Award nomination for playing a housemaid in 1960s Alabama in The Help, spoke out about just before the anecdote about how studios and executives were more willing to let her star in stereotypical roles than in parts often given to white actresses.
‘If I wanted to play a mother whose family lives in a low income neighborhood and my son was a gang member who died in a drive by shooting, I could get that made,’ Davis 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,’ she continued.
Davis lamented that ‘people can’t reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality. It’s too much for them.’
Even though she’s widely acknowledged as one of the greatest actresses currently working, she suggested that her race kept Hollywood decision makers from thinking she was ‘pretty enough,’ which she said ‘really gets on my damn nerves.’
‘It breaks my heart and it makes me angry,’ she added.
Uneven playing field: She also criticized how Black women aren’t given the same kind of roles and stories that white actresses are offered
Easy: ‘If I wanted to play a mother whose family lives in a low income neighborhood and my son was a gang member who died in a drive by shooting, I could get that made,’ she said
Hard: ‘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,’ she continued
She didn’t want to beat around the bush or pretend that this was for a reason other than her skin color.
‘A lot of it is based in race. It really is,’ she said. ‘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 p***es me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.’
Davis also delved into her career following her success with Shonda Rhimes’ hit ABC series How To Get Away With Murder. She was one of the few Black women leading a major network series when it premiered in 2014, and one of an even smaller group of dark-skinned Black women.
But she didn’t think the role expanded the playing field for other Black women as much as she had hoped at the time.
‘I know that when I left How to Get Away With Murder that I don’t see a lot of dark-skin women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services,’ she complained. ‘And that ties into ideology and ethos and mentality, and that’s speaking in the abstract.
‘Why aren’t you hiring a dark-skin woman when she walks in the room and you say she blows you away? Create space and storytelling for her so when she thrives she’s not thriving despite of her circumstance but thriving because of her circumstance,’ she continued.
Not enough progess: She lamented that her role on How To Get Away With Murder didn’t lead to more Black actresses leading TV shows by the time she left in 2020; seen in 2014