Is Viola Davis Right About Black Women in Hollywood?

Is Viola Davis Right About Black Women in Hollywood

From late 2011 into early 2012, Viola Davis went campaigning for an Academy Award as if she was trying to knock Obama out of the running for a second term. From one perspective, you might say she was being a little self-absorbed by telling millions of people around the world that she deserved an award more than four other extremely talented women. On the other hand, you could say the award was less about her personal achievements and more a statement on the status of black women in Hollywood.  After all of her efforts, who won the Oscar for best actress in 2012?

It was Meryl Streep.

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All of a sudden, people were outraged that Davis’s name wasn’t called out. The word “snub” practically became more commonly used than table salt. Would people have been so outraged had she not campaigned relentlessly beforehand or was she hands down better than everyone else that year? Streep has been nominated for 17 — yes, 17 — Academy Awards, but has only walked away with three. And Meryl Streep is good … like really good. Does this mean Streep got snubbed a handful of times herself? Both Davis and Streep were nominated for Oscars for their work in Doubt back in 2009, but neither of them won. Were they snubbed?

“We’re in crisis mode as black actresses.  Not only in the sheer number of roles that are offered and that are out there, but the quality of the roles.”

I’m sure nobody even remembers the other three women nominated in 2012. Blossoming actresses Michelle Williams and Rooney Mara gave captivating performances. Glenn Close, the poor man’s Meryl Streep, was incredible in Albert Nobbs. If you are reading this, chances are you didn’t even see that film. Tilda Swinton did not receive a nomination at all. Snubbed?

Maybe it was supposed to be Davis’s year? Maybe this was owed to her by the Academy? Although she had already won two Tony Awards and numerous smaller awards, was the Oscar for best actress the one honor that would send a shockwave through the industry? Was a SAG Award just a crappy consolation prize? Was Octavia Spencer’s Oscar for the same film a slap in her castmate’s face? Is supporting actress a lesser award than leading actress? Last time I checked, the trophies are identical.

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The argument that the majority of the Academy is made up of old white dudes is an easy one to make. These are the same white dudes who selected Halle Berry, Mo’Nique and Spencer to take home the golden man, though. Many more black actresses have been nominated by them.

Davis has since moved on from her losses nearly two years ago and is getting plenty of work. However, her feelings towards black actresses in Hollywood have not changed a bit. This past summer, she sat down with a bunch of her colleagues and had a discussion with Oprah. Davis said:

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“We’re in crisis mode as black actresses. Not only in the sheer number of roles that are offered and that are out there, but the quality of the roles.”

Well, this is tough to digest. She’s certainly not lacking work. From my experiences in the industry, white women make up the largest group and the clear majority of them cannot support themselves by acting. Based on numbers, it seems as though there is a shortage of roles for all types of actors.

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For someone who has received such high praise for her body of work, it is strange to listen to Davis talk about the lack of quality in roles for women of her type. Looking at her filmography alone, you will find that she has played a nurse, a doctor, a social worker, a police officer, a detective, a CIA chairwoman, an FBI agent, a professor, a mother, and she has done narration. My resume includes some stoners, an autistic kid, a Nazi captain and a bisexual drug dealer/phone sex operator. I don’t quite follow. Maybe she is trying to say that the elite black actresses are taking all of the good roles and the leftovers are just horrible stereotypes?

With all the clout this woman has, one would think she could invest her time and money into producing or investing in projects that coincide with what she preaches. Instead of talking to Oprah, she could literally be the next Oprah. If that woman has a story to tell, she tells it.

This week, Viola will be fighting aliens with the International Military as her latest film, “Ender’s Game,” hits theaters worldwide. According to IMDB, this will be her 64th TV/film credit. Not too bad for someone in crisis mode, right?

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