“Those micro-aggressions happen all the time,” the actress said of Hollywood’s resistance to change. Viola Davis believes that an event in which a filmmaker incorrectly referred to her as his maid shows Hollywood’s persistent and chronic racial fairness problem.
During a Women in Motion conversation with Variety and Kering at the 75th Cannes Film Festival earlier this week, the Oscar and Emmy winner recalled the pivotal occasion.
“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,” Davis said, per Variety. “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.”
Davis then went on to discuss her critically acclaimed series, How to Get Away with Murder. The Shonda Rhimes-produced series was one of the few on television to have a dark-skinned Black woman as the main character for six seasons. However, Davis claims that the program did not result in more opportunities for other women who look like her onscreen.
“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 said. “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.”
Davis went on to say that she wants to create that place through JuVee Productions, which she and her husband Julius Tennon started.
“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 continued. “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. … People can’t reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality. It’s too much for them.”
The actress also said that previous Hollywood rejections, in which she was passed over because of her race or not being “pretty enough,” still sting.
“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 pisses me off, and it has broken my heart—on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”