Saturday, February 4, 2012

My take on Viola Davis

Since the release of "Red Tails" a few weeks ago, there's been quite a bit of focus on Viola Davis. Here is a woman who is talented and attractive, yet not being offered roles that merit her acting stature.  There's been a group of people, perhaps most notably Charlize Theron, who've said, "You gotta stop talking like that, you're hot as Sh*t", meaning it doesn't matter that Viola Davis is a dark skinned black woman.  That she should be able to get roles just as easy as Theron.   Allison Samuels of The Daily Beast puts it well: 

How sweet of Theron to say, and how thoroughly misguided and offensive as well…
In Hollywood, where even legendary filmmaker George Lucas had to fight and ultimately use his own money to get an all-black film (Red Tails) made, black actresses still struggle to find quality work. When they do, they are rarely cast as ideals of beauty or objects of desire. On the odd occasion that they are, only a certain look will do. Berry, who is biracial, has long been viewed as Hollywood’s most beautiful black actress, and some would argue that much of her success is based on that belief. Apparently Theron didn’t get the memo that mainstream culture strictly dictates what beauty is—and by those narrow standards, Viola Davis doesn’t fit the bill. Has Davis graced the covers of any of the beauty and fashion magazines that Theron lands with ease, whether she has a project or not? She hasn’t. … Her “hotness” was apparently not enough to warrant a solo [magazine] appearance despite the fact that she may soon snag her second Oscar nomination for The Help. The reasons for this are as varied as they are disturbing, and Theron’s overly simplistic advice only underscores the lack of understanding many have around a reality they either don’t comprehend or don’t fully appreciate. 
Some people really think that if you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, everything will be alright. (most often this is a republican argument, by the way) Why is it that Black and Brown people have less wealth?  Because they don't work hard enough, right? Um, noooo...As an example, let's use housing in the Washington, D.C. metro area where I currently live: imagine you live in the same size house but in two different neighborhoods: one in a majority white area and the other in a majority black area.  Houses of exactly similar size and features can have different market values simply because one area is considered more desirable, and/or has better educational institutions, and/or more services available to them.  Care to figure out which one might be which? See Prince George's and Montgomery counties in suburban Maryland, just outside D.C.  Prince Georges County has one of the highest rates of Black millionaires in the country, BUT the houses are priced at a lower level than those in Montgomery County.  It's just not as "desirable" to live in that community.

It is the same with Viola Davis.  It doesn't matter how "hot" she is, i.e. how desirable her physical attributes might make her to members of the opposite sex.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have the "look" and therefore, no matter what she does, how hard she works, or what her skills are, she will not get the same caliber of roles that a Charlize Theron or a Meryl Streep will receive.  Now you could say: "What about Whoopie Goldberg?  She got lots of roles after the Color Purple.  She worked all the time!" Herein lies what I'll call the "Oprah or Cosby Corollary", meaning that everything is just fine and dandy because ONE person of color has succeeded.  Whoopie was a comedian and our society is far more comfortable with Black people being funny than with them being serious. More importantly, and hopefully without sounding crass, Whoopie Goldberg was not going for beauty roles that would be offered to other White actresses.  And good for Whoopie that she's done as well as she's done!  But she's only one!

Now apparently Ms. Davis is starting to get offered more roles; I suspect the controversy combined with the Oscar nod has made her more attractive to studios. Yet listen to the roles offered:  She's going to play a military psychologist overseeing children (code for supporting cast) in the sic-fi adaptation of the book "Ender's Game"(which is an astonishingly good novel about children in a military school that wipe out an entire species of bug people and…well..that kind of gives it away…but to continue) and a librarian (code for supporting cast member) "seer".  Hmmm…when did we see another clairvoyant "magical negro" seer woman?  Hmmm…could that be…Whoopie Goldberg in "Ghost"? So I guess she's really made it.  'Cause when you get the Magical Negro roles…that means, "We done made it! We's movin' to the east side…to a deluxe apartment…in the sky-hy-hy…mo-hoo-vin' oooon up!…" fade to black….

For more information about the "Magical Negro Effect" see my next blog…

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