Viola Davis is a class act. She continues to address criticism against her by taking the high road. Viola is a phenomenal actress who is finally getting the recognition that she deserves no matter the backhandedness of some of it or the pure, unadulterated ignorance of those who fail to understand that Viola’s Truth might not be theirs, but it is still Truth. Davis deals with racism, sexism, colorism and ageism. She’s not afraid to speak out against these –isms nor does she allow discrimination to stop her from trudging forward.
As the star of How to Get Away With Murder, Davis has the opportunity to shine in a role that is complex and multi-faceted. Annalise is smart, beautiful, and sexy and . . . . flawed. She’s human, and Davis’ brilliant handling of the character allows us to get up close and personal. When NY Times critic Alessandra Stanley described Davis as “less classically beautiful” than other actresses on prime time, Davis let the comments roll off her back. The comments were nothing new because she has heard similar comments all of her life, she said. Stanley’s use of pretty language did not cover the fact that Stanley was calling Davis ugly because Davis doesn’t fit the European model of beauty that we’ve been brainwashed to think is more attractive.
Just recently when Davis gave her acceptance speech for winning an Emmy, she referenced Harriet Tubman and called out Hollywood for its lack of diversity. And there were those who took offense at Davis’ comments. Nancy Lee Grant, an actress from General Hospital went on a Twitter rant complaining about Davis’ statement that there was a lack of opportunity for Black women. Grant didn’t think the acceptance speech was the place to address racial inequity. Grant seemed upset that Davis focused on Black women instead of the issues faced by all women. When asked about Grant’s comments, Davis acknowledged that someone was upset and refused to comment further.
Just recently Whoopi Goldberg said she doesn’t understand what Davis was talking about because there are opportunities for African-American actresses and went on to point out that Kerry Washington is on Scandal and “working her butt off.” Goldberg seems to think it’s not a lack of opportunity, but getting that pat on the back and the green light that it’s ok to hire Black women. I listened to Goldberg and shook my head. She sounded like she was contradicting herself. Black women do need access to showcase their talent and then they need acknowledgement.
Goldberg should know better, but Grant is a White woman who will never understand a Black woman’s struggle. Grant’s comments recognize that sexism is an issue, but she fails to understand that racism is also an issue. Goldberg is an exception to the rule in that she has earned a certain degree of success in a field that is dominated by White men. So, it’s not fair for either of these women to downplay Davis’ journey. What seems lost in the commentary on Davis speech is that she is the FIRST African American actress to receive an Emmy for best actress in a drama. Isn’t that enough to validate Davis’ statement? It’s 2015, and we’re still acknowledging “firsts” in a field full of talented actors of color. Davis being a first speaks volumes. And people like Grant and Goldberg need to listen. Yes, this may open the door for other Black actresses, but why are we still on the outside trying to get in?
Back in July, when Nicki Minaj was passed over for an award for her Anaconda video, she also made reference to the discrimination faced by women of color in the music industry. She all but said that if she had been White her video would have won. This created a “feud” between her and Taylor Swift because Swift thought Minaj was throwing shade Swift’s way. The two of them came to an understanding and the “feud” was squashed, but then a reporter for the NY Times asked Miley Cyrus to comment on Minaj’s statement and stirred the pot again. Instead of saying no comment or at least saying something neutral, Cyrus, a young, rich, White woman of privilege went in on Minaj. Cyrus thought that Minaj’s attitude was one of sour grapes and accused Minaj of being angry and unkind. And during the airing of the VMA, Minaj showed Cyrus just how angry and unkind she could be. After accepting her award for Anaconda, Minaj said, “And back to this bitch who had so much to say about me. Miley, what’s good?”
Minja was criticized for calling Cyrus a bitch. People like Wendy Williams said that Minaj was too old to be going after Cyrus. In other words, they wanted Minaj to take the high road. In a recent interview with the NY Times, Minaj expressed how she felt about Cyrus comments: ‘‘The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.’’ But we already know that people want everything but the burden of being Black.
Well, everybody is not like Viola Davis. Some are like Nicki Minaj and when you speak on what you don’t really know, you get what you get. I’m more like Viola than Nicki, but I believe there is a place in the world for women like Nicki Minaj who can snapback with confronted with ass-backward commentary. Whatever field we enter as Black women, we face an uphill battle. And people like Whoopi Goldberg and Wendy Williams seem to forget that. I’m not saying that as Black women we always have to agree, but in a country that is racist, sexist, and elitist—we should never downplay another woman’s struggle. As for White women, it might be wise for them to keep their comments about how we move in the world to themselves unless they’re ready for whatever response we might give them.High or low, the road we travel is not easy.