Viola Davis is a Hollywood heavyweight these days, but it was not always that way. For a long time, Davis was overlooked by the industry and had to pay her dues. Her journey was made even harder by the fact that she was a dark-skinned woman in a field that does not always champion women who do not fit the “standard of beauty” often pushed to the forefront. Let’s take a look at her battle to overcome this.
Hollywood has historically pushed black women to the background. Hattie McDaniels would be the first black woman to win an Oscar in 1940, but sadly for the role of a mammy character in Gone With The Wind. The stereotype of women of color in supporting and inferior roles has continued since then and even plagued Viola Davis. Davis played “blink, and you miss it” roles in films like Eat Pray Love and Antwan Fisher before people began to take notice of her. 2008’s Doubt was one of her first starring roles, with 2011’s The Help pushing her into the forefront.
Her whole career, Davis has been outspoken about the things she has endured and how she has been overlooked. Viola Davis told Vanity Fair in 2020 that her entire life felt like a protest. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest,” she told the publication. “It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.'”
Davis admits that even after all her success, there are still not enough roles for black actresses. Viola has watched her white counterparts find parts for every stage of their lives but says that in her 50s, it has gotten harder to find work. Davis says it’s equally as hard to find work that properly pays her. Despite being called “the black Meryl Streep,” Davis says she does not get paid the same. “OK, then, if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that; you pay me what I’m worth.”
Davis continues to fight for her worth and the worth of other women actresses. She does this through her production company and through talking about their struggles. Despite this, she still gets pushback in her roles. Many pushed back against her portrayal of first lady Michelle Obama. People mocked Viola Davis online for making a weird face while trying to embody Michelle. She also got pushback for the film Woman King, which people deemed to not be “historically accurate.”
Davis is used to these types of fights and says she does not often entertain hearsay or social media. One fight she did take on, however, was when people argued that she would not be attractive enough for the series How to Get Away with Murder. Even worst, it was several black actors who made comments about her skin and appearance. This experience has stuck with the actress for many years.
Hear me out. Hollywood and The Academy ain’t ready to recognize Black women leading movies. Ugly truth.— Vince (@vincentlao18) January 24, 2023
THE WOMAN KING got better direction than most. It made money. Great ensemble. Great techs support. Viola Davis starring. And NONE got the attention?! pic.twitter.com/PCyGZJPnZR
Davis powered through despite feeling she couldn’t “shake” the critique. HTGAWM became one of her signature roles and a runaway success for which she won an Emmy.