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Viola Davis Talks Colorism, Says Black Actors Didn’t Think She Was ‘Pretty Enough’ to Star In ‘HTGAWM’

Viola Davis is getting honest about her experience in Hollywood. In her upcoming memoir, the award-winning actress revealed that the industry didn’t think she was pretty enough to portray the prominent criminal defense attorney and law professor Annalise Keating on the hit ABC-TV series “How to Get Away with Murder.” It’s a role that earned her several award nominations, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. 

In a lengthy New York Times profile ahead of the release of her new book, “Finding Me: A Memoir,” out April 26, the 56-year-old claimed that following her casting for the Shonda Rhimes-produced thriller, a friend approached her after overhearing several actors and actresses — all of whom were black — say that she “wasn’t pretty enough to pull it off.” 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 10: EP/Actor Viola Davis from Showtime’s ‘The First Lady’ attends Deadline Contenders Television at Paramount Studios on April 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood )

The “Suicide Squad” actress noted that, unlike the other racist experience she’d faced, this was one feeling the then 47-year-old couldn’t quickly shake off. 

In a way, the actress tried to combat that narrative. The Times wrote that before accepting the role — which Rhimes and show creator Peter Norwalk had anticipated she’d take —  Davis asked that they write a scene in which Annalise removes her wig and makeup, giving viewers a look into the character’s raw beauty. The decision resulted in one of the most memorable scenes in the series’ entire five-season run. 

“The TV and film business is saturated with people who think they’re writing something human when it’s really a gimmick,” she wrote. “But if I took the wig off in a brutal, private moment and took off the makeup, it would force them to write for THAT woman.”

Davis’ performance earned recognition at several ceremonies, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards, during which she won the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series category. 

Davis, who is only one award away from being an EGOT, is currently playing former first lady Michelle Obama in the Showtime series “The First Lady.” Earlier this month, the actress shared the show’s preview on her social media accounts with the caption, “She didn’t just speak up, she spoke out.”

The teaser gave viewers a peek at two distinctive periods of Obama’s life: her early life with Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, and the couple’s White House years. “The First Lady,” a 10-episode series, premieres April 17, on Showtime.

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