In an interview with BET this weekend, two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington sat down to dish about his highly anticipated film “Fences” and the polarizing issues of race discussed in the movie. The acclaimed actor, however, made a few questionable comments about the issue of colorism in Hollywood and the struggle dark-skinned actors and actresses face in securing noteworthy roles.
When asked if colorism held darker-skinned actors back from achieving success in the world of show business, Washington seemingly brushed off the notion and pointed to his renowned “Fences” co-star Viola Davis to support his idea that the phenomenon of choosing light-skinned actors over dark-skinned actors for movie roles doesn’t exist.
“One of the best roles for a woman of any color in the last, in a good good while or at least any movie that I’ve been in, a dark-skinned woman has in this film,” he said. “So, as long as you’re being led by outside forces or just being reactionary, then you won’t move forward. You have to continue to get better.”
Washington went on to suggest that being denied a role in a film may not be a matter of the actor’s skin tone but rather of their skill level and determination to get better.
“You can say, ‘Oh I didn’t get the part because they gave it to the light-skinned girl, or you can work, and one day — it might take 20 years — and you can be Viola,” he continued. “The easiest thing to do is to blame someone else, the system. Yeah, there’s a possibility, maybe, that you’re not good enough, but it’s easy to say it’s someone else’s fault. But there’s a possibility that you’re not ready and you can still blame it on someone else instead of getting ready.”
The award-winning actor’s latest remarks are a complete about-face from statements he made back in 2012, in which he told his daughter Olivia, who also is an actor, that she would have to work harder because she was dark-skinned. Washington’s comments also came as a bit of a surprise, seeing as a number of Black actors, including Davis, have candidly spoken out about their experiences with colorism in Hollywood.
“When you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking,” the ‘How to Get Away With Murder” actress said in a 2015 interview with The Wrap. “That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire.”
Davis even addressed the issue of colorism in her acceptance speech at the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards, during which she thanked the producers of “How to Get Away With Murder” for envisioning a “sexualized, mysterious woman [to] be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned, African-American woman who looks like me.”
So far, Davis hasn’t checked Washington on his remarks, but the actor’s disappointing stance on colorism and whether it exists at all prompted backlash from fans on social media.
The fact that Denzel Washington had to point out and use examples of why colorism doesn't exist is just further proof that colorism exists.
— Petty Betty (@Princess4loko) December 28, 2016
Where was Denzel Washington when @violadavis gave that powerful acceptance speech at the Emmys regarding colorism, racism, and sexism?
— becca (@MJFinesseLover) December 28, 2016