Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis spoke about racism in Hollywood at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival on May 18, and she revealed a director once confused her with his maid. Davis was speaking during the Women In Motion Talk with Variety.
Davis recalled working on a film when she was around 30 years old and said her director, despite knowing the actress for more than a decade, called her by the name of his maid, Louise. The “Fences” actress also noted that similar microaggressions occur “all the time” in the film industry.
“I had a director who did that to me,” Davis revealed. “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. I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago. But what you have to realize is that those microaggressions happen all the time.”
The actress also spoke truth to the reality of colorism in Hollywood and noted that despite her iconic role on ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” there is still a lack of dark-skinned actresses starring on television and in films.
“I know that when I left ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ that I don’t see a lot of dark-skinned women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services,” she said. “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 of her circumstance but thriving because of her circumstance.”
Davis noted that her opportunities are limited in the entertainment industry and kept it real when she said she’d have better luck pitching a film about a poor, single mother whose son dies in a drive-by than about a Black woman in her 50s going to France and dating several men because they are unable to reconcile Blackness with spiritual awakening and sexuality. She referenced a film she was in starring actress Julia Roberts, “Eat, Pray, Love.”
“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,” Davis said. “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… It’s too much for them.”
She added that much of it is race-based and said if she had lighter skin or was a blond, she’d have gotten more work, having lost roles because of racism. The beauty was also told she wasn’t “pretty enough.”
“We could talk about colorism, we could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.” Davis is expanding opportunities for herself with her own production company, JuVee Productions. She has plans to star in a film about warriors called “The Woman King,” which is being produced by her company. You can see Davis speak at the Cannes Film Festival in the video below.