The incident is indicative of the pervasive racism in Hollywood.
Viola Davis revealed a racist and demoralizing interaction she once had with a director during the Women in Motion conversation with Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister at the Cannes Film Festival this week. She admitted that a director once called her by his maid’s name.
“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. “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 went on to discuss how even as an A-lister, she feels like there aren’t as many roles for her because of the color of her skin. Despite having been nominated for an Oscar four times, and winning in 2016 for her role in Fences opposite Denzel Washington, along with winning an Emmy and a Tony, she says there just still aren’t as many opportunities for dark-skinned actors due to Hollywood’s insidious problem with race. She continued, “I know that when I left How to Get Away With Murder, I don’t see a lot of dark skin women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services. And that ties into ideology and ethos and mentality, and that’s speaking in the abstract. Why aren’t you hiring a dark-skinned 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 her circumstance, but thriving because of her circumstance.”
She further elaborated on the stereotyping of roles: “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. 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 added, “People can’t reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality. It’s too much for them.
“...Let’s be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different,” Davis continued. “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. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”
Hopefully, Davis’ transparency about her struggles in Hollywood, even as one of its top stars, will help to wake up some of the people who continue these cycles of racist casting practices.