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It's A Difficult Time To Be A Black Filmmaker w/ An imagination (Or An Open Letter to Viola Davis)

by Tanya Steele
June 24, 2013 4:11 PM
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Viola Davis

A repost on the heels of last night's "conversation with black actresses" feature with Oprah Winfrey on OWN, during which Viola Davis, once again, expressed a general lack of respect for black writers.

I was so excited to see the Viola Davis spread in the LA times. I thought, my goodness, when is the last time I saw a Black 'star' take off the wig and go au natural. Loved it! I'm thinking, yes, we are becoming courageous enough to be who we are, not who others want us to be.

Now, before you start thinking I am a 'go sista', 'waving fist in the air', 'burn it all down', black woman, I'm not. I believe that black women can do whatever they want with their hair. But, I do get a little confused by the long weaves and the desire to get as far away as possible from what you were born with. I don't understand that. I've started to see a lot of black women and girls on the streets of NYC with Naomi Campbell style weaves And, I wonder why. What are these women/girls attempting to say about themselves? It's not judgment, I really want to understand what is going on in their heads. "America's Next Top Model" and "Sex In The City" have created a culture of womanhood that has everyone trying to look like they stepped off of the runway. Women want to feel beautiful. I got that. Women want to be admired. I got that. But, at what cost to their pocketbooks and mental health?

So, when I saw Ms. Viola show off her natural tresses, it was like a breath of fresh air. Such a beautiful counterpoint to her Maid (Aibileen) imagery. Haven't seen 'The Help'. I won't. Don't ask. I know what it is. I know how Hollywood does black history. But, more importantly, it isn't adding anything to my imagination. It isn't feeding my brain or offering me a way to re-imagine America. I've seen the arguments for and against, but, I just don't see how it will add anything interesting to my life. I try not to participate in American rituals that don't enrich me in some way.

And recently, I did give it a shot. Tuned into the Super Bowl for a minute and was just puzzled. So much energy, time and money spent so that a handful of people could make millions of dollars. And, I wondered if most of the people tuning in had health coverage, were meeting their mortgage, had enough food for their children. I can't watch things that don't nourish the American imagination. Things that don't move the country forward or benefit the citizens in some way. So, that's why I won't see 'The Help'. Americans have been given the short end of the stick with respect to black history. This doesn't serve your average American. And, it keeps us at odds with one another. Until we get the history right, America will continue its downward spiral.

Ms. Viola's spread in the LA Times did feed my imagination. It did offer me a new way of seeing a Black 'star'. And, it made me more curious about Ms. Viola. So, I've tuned into her interviews, paying careful attention to her fierceness. A friend called and left a message on my answering machine, 'just saw Viola in a room full of white people, she said, "I always wanted to be somebody." He hung up. I got it. I get it. It's generational. Currently, the vanguard of black culture is still healing wounds from their past. Wounds that racism have created, wounds that drive you to gain acceptance in the larger culture. The acknowledgment comes in the form of a paycheck, exposure, star status, acceptance. An acceptance that is more important than our legacy. Isn't it that simple? How else could a black woman read an inaccurate portrayal of a black maid, one of the most heroic crosses black women have had to bear in America, and take the role?

As stated, I have been watching Ms. Viola's interviews. I want to know the answer. I want to know what she wrestled with, the questions, the doubts. I, unlike many, was disheartened when I saw 'Doubt'. I just couldn't embrace the character, didn't believe it. Didn't know when I had seen a white actress look so weathered down and had sh** dripping down her face. I was like, really, did we need all of that? What is that? Did we really need to get that far into breaking down the image of this black woman. But, I guess Ms. Viola thinks that 'dignifying' downtrodden black women is her calling. If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have moved forward in America. Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep perpetuating falsehoods. The days of, "well, there is nothing else I could do" are over. They are over. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

During her Oscar press junket, Ms. Viola keeps bringing up Black filmmakers and writers as if our piss poor skills made her choose the Maid role. I beg her pardon. I don't remember seeing Ms. Viola in any black independent films. She says because she is only offered "urban crack addicted mothers." By whom? Has she ever heard of the NYU Graduate film program? Certainly, she must have. There are Black folks coming out of that school with screenplays that offer complex, interesting characters and lifestyles. How is it that she can only access screenplays about crack addicted black mothers when there are filmmakers who couldn't write about a crack addicted mother if they tried?

So, in her diatribe, she's placing the responsibility of having to choose the black Maid role at our feet? How in the hell did that happen? And, don't get me wrong, it's not about being a black maid. Hell, the Black Maid, one day, will be deemed a heroine of black american culture. These women bore scars that none of us will ever know. We lift them up. So cease with the argument that we don't want to see Black maids; that isn't it; it's about the falsification of our history, and how one makes a choice as a black person to participate in it.

Just say you want the paycheck and the exposure. We can live with that. But, don't throw black filmmakers and screenwriters under the damn bus. We are out here struggling, fighting, facing rejection, dealing with false starts, having doors closed in our faces because we are trying to bring a truth and a humanity to the film world. Do you know how hard that is, Ms. Viola? I think you do. I think you know the struggle to be a black artist with imagination, with so much beauty and fire you want to bring to the arena and can't, so, your insides burn. I know you know it. I heard about your performance in 'Intimate Apparel'. I saw your spread in the LA Times. I know what your imagination must have suffered as a child. I know your path. I share your story. So why is there a bridge that does not allow us to meet and share our story?

Let's think about that. There are so many black women filmmakers and screenwriters that would die to sculpt something for your beauty; that would offer you a sandbox to play in and put your range on full display. And we couldn't write about a crack addicted mother if we tried.

But, are you, like Michelle Williams, willing to work with an independent black filmmaker? An unknown who is a free thinker and has a grand imagination? Are you willing to trust an unknown black filmmaker with your image? Is Will Smith? Is Denzel Washington? Is Morgan Freeman? Is Sam Jackson? Well, he definitely has with 'Eve's Bayou'. We will not be able to change black representation in Hollywood until the 'names' start taking chances with the free thinkers, with the folks who color outside of the lines. Understand, this is how new voices enter the arena. Martin Scorsese lead with his point of view, Oliver Stone lead with his point of view, Jane Campion, the same. The mavericks start outside of the mainstream and then, if they choose to, become the mainstream. That's how it's done. But, who is willing to take the chance with the 'auteur' black woman filmmaker?

Black folks have the capital and the talent but, for some reason, people don't trust black women filmmakers to tell our stories. Yes, we can call it racism with white folks but what do we call it when it's our own? Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry can't just swoop something up after it's won Sundance. There is so much talent that will never see at Sundance. This is not rocket science, it is about giving people an opportunity. And, yes, I blame the aforementioned. I blame those who champion Zora Neal Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry, now, when they are dead. If they were alive during these times and were filmmakers, you would not hear them. They would not be able to access you in your Black tower.

They were the creatives, the truth tellers, the free thinkers of their time. And the free thinkers, those with creativity and imagination in our time, get marginalized. And then we're told we aren't' doing enough or we need to stop complaining, or, or, or…. You have the power, we don't. But, we won't stop. We will break through and you know what, we are as displeased with you as we are with "the whites". And we will be talking about you when we tell our stories.

America needs a strong infusion of truth and imagination, it's the only thing that is going to move us forward.

Black america has to stop being paralyzed over what they think "white america" will do or what "white america" wants.

It's time to put courage at the center of our Art, not excuses.

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at Or visit

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  • JBtheDREAMER | February 20, 2014 8:11 PMReply

    Ever wonder what it would be like "To Be A Black Filmmaker" without an imagination?

  • Rai | September 8, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    I disagree with pulling down Viola Davis in this article. I also don't understand the new trend of people judging films without seeing them. That said, I think this article speaks many, many truths. Of course the Black Maid is an American heroine, but I believe has yet to be portrayed in that light, instead being cast repeatedly as the victim. The thought that black filmmakers lack imagination, or only produce one type of work is incorrect and inside-out thinking. The numbers are not adding up here. I think, as stated above, that first of all, black filmmakers need to begin to be even more courageous in their work, creating masterpieces regardless of trying to breakthrough to a mainstream audience, because that is where great films get made. Second of all, those who have the power to contribute and to get these films made and seen need to step up and start doing their part in giving back and advancing the quality of the films America is being exposed to, especially those that portray people of color.

  • Taxxi | July 13, 2013 2:12 PMReply

    The highly acclaimed Ms V. knows the Hollyweird game and she should've keep the hat on until she snatch that prize then she could have rip it off trophy in hand!
    That's great advice to ''use your courage'' and make sure your bank account is stacked with big bucks to finance ''your'' art.

  • Yup | July 2, 2013 2:16 PMReply

    Ps- How does one know for certain that "The Help" was an inaccurate portrayal of a Black maid if one hasn't seen it?

  • Yup | July 2, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Why are the stories of maids and "downtrodden Black women" somehow considered less worthy of being told than upwardly mobile Black women? Yeah, I get the argument that this narrative is completely overdone in American cinema to the point of noxious stereotype, but I also detect a classist bias lurking beneath this sentiment. These women deserve nuanced reflections of themselves onscreen as much as anyone else does.

  • ... | June 26, 2013 7:56 PMReply

    Haven't gotten through all the comments yet, but so far, it seems that Sunboy, Joyce Shera, J. Blakemore & Bondgirl completely missed the point.

  • JaySmack | June 28, 2013 2:42 PM

    I also noticed the people you mentioned use the word "research," almost as if they were written by the same person. Hmmmm...

  • ... | June 26, 2013 7:36 PMReply

    Amen Tanya Steele ... Amen, Amen & Amen.

  • Sunboy | June 26, 2013 12:57 AMReply

    Such an unfortunate, poorly researched composition. This is sophisticated hate mail. Firstly, in attempting to edify or heal things within the race, the tearing down of other members of the race will ALWAYS be counterproductive and will NEVER accomplish anything positive. And that's when there IS a legitimate concern/argument. There is none here. My beautiful Black people, please hear this: Always DO. YOUR. RESEARCH!!! I don't know why we always feel it's okay to make declamatory statements without ever validating our claims. As a writer who wants to be taken seriously by the world, it is imperative. This letter was clearly written by a disgruntled writer who is taking out her frustration on a Black actress who has worked and fought incredibly hard to get where she is, and is still fighting. Ms. Davis has a production company that employs Black actors, writers, and directors. More than merely writing a letter, she has put her money where her mouth is, and invested in the careers of Black artists with the money she made from the movies you degrade (and did not watch?). That is action. That is admirable, and we should all appreciate that because a lot of Black actors/artists don't do that.

    I could go on all day, but it would only bring dignity to this hate mail. Tanya, in keeping with my first statement, I do not wish to tear you down. You is kind. You is smart. You is important. BUT you just used Ms. Davis' name to gain a significant amount of (unearned) attention. Now people know who you are because of her. You should thank her. I pray you get your break, and all your projects come into fruition; that that takes some of the edge off, and you can actually be secure enough to uplift your colleagues. And please know, publicizing STRONG opinions about something you've never seen, discredits anything you say thereafter. Even if you didn't watch it, not admitting it would have been a much wiser choice. It makes it look even more like jealousy and spite.

  • Joyce Sherrí | June 25, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    The writer makes a few decent points, but she sounds a little bitter as well. Its almost as if the weight of responsibility is left on Viola's shoulders to be all "power to the people" and be "The Help" for other Black folks trying to make a name for themselves (mind the pun, haha) I guess I can't be 100% because I hate being put in a box...I don't want to be a Black Filmmaker I want to be a Filmmaker who happens to have Black people as her main characters one time or another...I want to tell good stories and my films and projects are not always going to be about the plight of Black people. Yes we need more roles for Black people that are more than just the "urban crack addicted mothers" but we can't assume that because our Black celebrities have a little change in their pockets they are responsible for coming to look for US...Notice the article says Viola is only "offered" these roles by other Black filmmakers...maybe we should start offering our work and stop waiting to have things handed over to us, because lets face it we are so awesome right? ;-)

  • Donella | June 25, 2013 2:38 PMReply

    I would like to mention that Denzel Washington has been directed by Blacks several times--Spike Lee, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, The Hughes Brothers--and has gone back to be directed again by Lee and Franklin. Washington has also served as director for Black-themed projects. Samuel L. Jackson has been directed by Spike Lee, Kevin Hooks, Ernest Dickerson, The Hughes Brothers, Reginald Hudlin, Kasi Lemmons, John Singleton, Giancarlo Esposito, Malcolm D. Lee--and gone back to several, like Lee and Lemmons, for repeat opportunities. Oprah Winfrey has been directed by Lee Daniels. She has hired Black directors for television--Charles Burnett, Darnell Martin, Denzel Washington, Lee Daniels. The two that fall far short on your list in comparison are Will Smith and Morgan Freeman, although Smith did hire Gina Price-Bythewood for The Secret Life of Bees. I believe Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons, Debbie Allen, and Ava DuVernay should definitely be directing more than they are now. They've turned in excellent work, have shown dedication to the craft, and are reliable.

  • belmont1929 | June 25, 2013 12:51 PMReply

    damn! preach! No need for shame because you hit a good number of valid and well-documented points.

  • blah, blah | June 25, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    If Viola Davis thinks The Help is quality material than she is more full of -ish than I had already pegged her. #NotaFan #Overrated

  • PREACH | June 24, 2013 11:10 PMReply

    There is plenty of truth in this blog. You tell it, sister.

  • Val | June 24, 2013 10:02 PMReply


  • J. Blakemore | June 24, 2013 7:02 PMReply

    Wow. A lot of assumptions made in this article. Assumptions that show, frankly, more anger than willingness to research even slightly. Ms Davis DOES own a production company that has already produced a film with mostly Black actors (not herself because- among other things- the company has a mission statement of expanding opportunities, not increasing her own) and focused on Black people in the military.

    I wouldn't figure a person who wrote off "The Help" without even WATCHING it would take the time to research beyond her assumptions. Had you taken the time to watch that movie, you MIGHT have thought it was a standard Hollywood portrayal where the White woman saves the po' Black folks or you MIGHT have seen the end (where a main character tells the White woman she can't "save" them, they will be doing that themselves). The point is you didn't bother to find out. That isn't a far cry from prejudice itself, is it?

    And the idea that the only way for Blacks to get decent and fair portrayals in Hollywood is to make the films themselves is CHARMING in the fact that it hearkens back to a big part of Black history: the age of "separate, but equal". Do you not see the irony in your own words?

    I've spoken to Ms Davis on a LOT of occasions. I would say we used to be friends and now are merely acquaintances. The things she has said to me are usually reflected in her interviews: she doesn't want Hollywood to quit making stories that have Blacks in a bad light; she just wants them to make MORE that don't. The answer that people like you seem to have is for HER to rebuild Hollywood because she has money, then YOU can step in without the discomfort of standing beside her to try to change the system as a whole.

    I repeat by the way, that you could have found out she was producing by just going to IMDb. Yet you didn't. You instead opted to attack her as "not doing enough" for YOU; for not making Hollywood over with what is (in production terms) VERY limited funds.

    I'm saddened by this article. And I'm saddened by those who would say that this woman "tossed Blacks under the bus(?!)" by having the TEMERITY to speak out about the limited opportunity offered to anyone in this town.

    Shame on you. Shame.

  • Anwar | June 24, 2013 11:55 PM

    JuVee Productions.

  • J Blakemore | June 24, 2013 7:28 PM

    Correction: In the interest of full disclosure I will reveal that. Ms Davis had a production company with her husband. It was called "Mandinka Films". I can't find it, so it might have folded. It produced a film about Black pilots during the war that didn't involve Ms Davis as an actor, nor did it involve Julius (her husband) in front of the camera. This could have been found out with research, though.

  • Daryl | June 24, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Finally somebody calls out these black celebs who keep throwing black people under the bus but don't want to invest in black people then turn around and beg white people for opportunities when they can do it themselves. Great article Tanya Steele.

  • JOHNNIE "BLUE" GARDNER | January 15, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    Ms. Tanya, my dear I'm afraid most A A'S will just never get it! BRAINWASH is nearly impossible to eradicate or eliminate from the mind! Your focus on History is right on. It is the basis of the BRAINWASH. My dearly departed Grandmother told me nearly 71 years ago, "son one lie leads to another!" Whites lied about the beginnings of this country and everything since has been lies! when a slave aspires to be just like Master, for those who don't know, that's BRAINWASH! Years ago I read a book entitled "Voices From Slavery," in it, were testimonies from slaves who thought that, their enslavement was justified because, whites were smarter, and Negroes needed to learn from whites. They didn't know any better, BRAINWASHED! Most don't even know who they are! Colored, Black, African American, or Negro? I'm an African Negro!! Who is an American, what is an American? "It Is Easier To Believe Than It Is To Think!" "A Peope Can't Know What They Want or Where They Want To Go If They Don't Know Who They Are And Where They Come From!" "A People Will Never Look Forward To
    Posterity Who Never Look Backward To Their Ancestors!" I don't believe African Americans want Freedom they just want to be free to Kiss the White Man's Ass! They got that! I haven't heard talk of Freedom since Malcolm, Doc, and Stokely were Murdered! Is it possible for me to contact Ms. Tanya Steele? I've got The Script, that She, I and many others are looking for!!!

  • Rocket | June 24, 2013 5:31 PM

    What the hell are you talking about?

  • Mookie | June 25, 2012 12:29 PMReply

    Oh Lord. You didn't see the Help so how do you have an opinboutsbout her work in this film? And re: Doubt. Snot Happens. Get over it. Lay down your grudge and just keep writing. It's hard sometimes but you must resist the urge to tear others down.

  • Sanaa | June 24, 2013 5:52 PM

    Right! Mookie, exactly. I'm like she refused to see the help (on some old tired, bandwagon, bullshit) but she expects others to sludge through HER long diatribe...hmmm. SIDE-EYE!

  • michele brown | March 1, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    Wow. While i appreciate your insight, your frustration is what overshadows it. The reality of the industry is that armchair quarterbacking will not make change. It is only those who garner success who can. Tyler Perry was in drag a long time before there was Tyler Perry Viola Davis may be a maid now at the Oscars, but maybe next time it will be your film she's Executive Producing and you two will go together to the awards. My point is simply it takes time and courage to position yourself in this industry and bad mouthing each other publicly on the heels of such a huge success does not seem wise. BTW. i know for a fact that Viola Davis IS looking for good material from black filmmakers and writers...maybe if you stop bashing and start blessing, that kind of opportunity can come your way. I feel your fire Sis and wish you well

  • Pasadena girl | April 18, 2012 10:30 PM

    Well said Michelle! Although I understand Tanya's frustration, you (Tanya) have to keep your eye on the prize and remain positive and persistent. Success usually comes after MANY years of hard work. You have to understand that the best part about the entertainment industry is that it has low barriers to entry. For that same reason, it is very competitive. At least we all (every ethnicity and gender) can create our own opportunity to enter the entertainment business. Be like Tyler Perry and never give up on your dream and YOU will own your own studio one day.

  • Ressurrection Graves | February 29, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    She looks gorgeous! I guess I'll have to be the one to say it, she looks 20 or 30 years younger. I always thoughts she was an older woman. I love the natural and she has never looked more beautiful!

  • rochelle | February 22, 2012 9:57 PMReply

    damn, lilly...really? not good enough.

  • rochelle robinson | February 22, 2012 9:53 PMReply


  • CareyCarey | February 20, 2012 1:13 PMReply

    "WHERE YOU BEEN CAREY?"~ Cynthia. I've been trying to get in this dang door! Anyway, I believe I have your e-mail address? If not, the following is mine. re: "pictures". A few other folks on this board have seen them (can't call them out because they would pimp slap me :-)).

    I believe you will receive a few laughs. talk to you soon.

  • CareyCarey | February 19, 2012 10:43 PMReply

    Dang! Whatsup with this "protection" "device" on this board. I cannot post a comment without a *SPAM* pop-up closing the door. Anyway, this post and the comments have me knocking at the door. So, as Marvin Gaye said, what's going on? Y'all know I hav some hands to raise up in this thread.

  • CareyCarey | February 21, 2012 4:50 PM

    @Nadine, you could be right, I still can't post more than 4 lines. Hello BONDGIRL, you killed this thread. MLK: "Man fears nothing more terrible than to take a position that stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it agrees with everything and so favorable that it agrees with everyone"

  • BONDGIRL | February 20, 2012 5:35 PM

    @Carey: Nope, I guess the new Indiewire has an indeterminate series of "blocks". If they would spend more time fixing the comment sequence, that'd be a real improvement. Kudos on your theatrical debut.

  • Nadine | February 20, 2012 3:31 PM

    Congratulations CAREYC, what an achievement. I have been wondering where you've been. I thought maybe you got "banned" like me ;). CC, what one puts out in effort, they get back 10-fold in satisfaction, I'm sure it was all worth it...

  • CareyCarey | February 20, 2012 1:04 PM

    Testing. Thanks for asking Cynthia. Well, first let me say I am dead dog exhausted. I mean, I am totally beat beyound words. I ve been involved in a play in which I am the director, producer and I have the leading role. It's been one! I have pictures ... dang, sapped again. I am going to try another PC

  • Cynthia | February 20, 2012 12:10 AM

    I'll say something to Tambay. Something must be going on with the system. Btw, where U been? My Lord...never thought I'd ask you that question Carey. lol

  • CareyCarey | February 19, 2012 10:35 PMReply


  • Lilly | February 19, 2012 5:31 PMReply

    I also have a serious problem with the way Hollywood depicts black culture, however, in this particular case, I think you're reading too much into things.

    Firstly, Viola Davis has played a powerful black woman in several of the movies she has been in, such as Law Abiding Citizen. However, she cannot always play the powerful strong black woman- if she did she would would be typecast which would significantly limit her range.

    Secondly, white women also play the downcast, downtrodden Charlize Theren played the downtrodden, drug addicted prostitue in Monster and won an oscar for it.

  • Lilly | February 19, 2012 5:31 PMReply


  • anon | February 19, 2012 9:18 AMReply

    ive got two wprds for ya NOLLY-WOOD the 3rd biggest film insusety in the world and aa are not getting in on it what is wrong with you people? apparently they have reached out to numerous actors writers and directors and have gooten the cold shoulder (surprise surprise) i guess nigera is not as glamerous as the hollywood red carpet eh?
    a british production company has just had investment from NOLLYWOOD to make a film with than thandie newton so they oviously think that that there is something to gain from nollywood but blacks dont. It amazes me how aa's moan and complain so much about the state of black cinema when everyone else goes abroad to find work if they cant get it in their country. idris elba and naomi harris arent getting masses of work in uk but they are in demand else where plus recently sophie okonoado went to austrilia for work in tv SHOCK HORROR and her role was ubelievebly NUANCED multifaceted i was so proud that she as a estalished film actress she was prepared to swallow her pride and do a little austrilian tv series which was actually REALLY good are amwercian actors prepared to do that? america is not the be all and end all there are opportunities globally if you really want it.

  • Rose | February 18, 2012 5:02 PMReply

    Thank you for your article. It is difficult to see women of color taking roles that are simply designed to pacify and appease white liberal audiences, in order to relieve them of their horrible burden of guilt. God forbid! The unfortunate reality is that dark skinned black women, in particular, are still only considered for certain roles. I can't blame ambitious and talented actresses for taking roles that would give them more exposure and larger financial rewards. But I have not seen, "The Help", nor do I intend to.

  • August Wasoba | June 25, 2013 2:22 PM

    Watch the movie before you judge it, from your comments it is clear you have no idea what the film is about, you just have your ill-informed assumptions.

  • greg starnes | February 18, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    Hey, Tambay! I heard what happened at the Pan-African Film Festival when David Oyelowo confronted you before the screening for "The Undershepherd" about the recent "Why Red Tails Failed to Soar" article, Vanessa Martinez's articles, and other Shadow and Act articles! Heard he really lit into you and made you 30 minutes late for the screening! One thing you have to learn in life... If you write about it, you have to be able to back it up if you're called to the carpet on it.

  • greg starnes | February 18, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    Hey, Tambay! I heard what happened at the Pan-African Film Festival when David Oyelowo confronted you before the screening for "The Undershepherd" about the recent "Why Red Tails Failed to Soar" article, Vanessa Martinez's articles, and other Shadow and Act articles! Heard he really lit into you and made you 30 minutes late for the screening! One thing you have to learn in life... If you write about it, you have to be able to back it up if you're called to the carpet on it.

  • Bruce Mitchell | February 18, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    Thank you, it is great to read a Sister express this. I feel better, and hopeful.

  • Renina | February 18, 2012 9:04 AMReply

    Thank you Ms.Steele for writing this.

    You kicked the hornets nest, but #blackgirlsarefromethefuture.

    Movies set agendas and they tell us what is important.

    The history of film in the US is in many ways the history of race and gender and access to capital, so when a historically Brown or Black body receives accolades from White establishments for playing a role, it is reasonable to assume that the basis of those accolades will be interrogated by Black people.

    As a Black woman, and a scholar, I believe that the forces that constrain the decisions that Black women artists make are ripe for interrogation because, in many ways, they reflect the forces that constrain the decisions that many Black women make; especially if they are working class or low income. These forces are relationships to family, accesses to a living wage and stable income, access to health care.

    Just two weeks ago I wrote "Why Black Women Film Directors" on my blog as I reflected on my ideas on the political significance of both Pariah and Red Tails.

    The ability to control how a person is represented is in many ways the ability to control a group of people.

    As Black creatives we all make choices and in the Tavis Smiley interview Ms. Davis is pushed by Smiley to discuss how did she go about deciding to take that role. Conversations like that are illuminating because they show us the process behind the decision for a Julliard trained, gorgeous, talented Black woman to take a maid role in the twenty first century, when the history of film in this country relegated Black women to maid roles, and when Black women were economically confined to working primarily as maids until the late 1970's.

    Good conversation.

  • Monique | February 17, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    Welcome to S&A Tayna, glad to have you!!!!

  • Janey | February 17, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    I liked your article. I thought it was definitely on point. I have also wondered the same thing about Viola Davis myself. Why WOULD she take such a role? I am also a bit taken a back by how completely nasty and toxic some of the comments are below. Are these people off their rockers? I hope these folks aren't representative of our Black filmmakers . . . :(

  • ms.stone | February 16, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    Well said.

  • H Rollins | February 16, 2012 10:00 AMReply

    This whole essay is puny; maybe even evil.  It reminds me of the self-hating character Sergeant Waters from "A Soldier's Story" crashing around in the dark screaming, "They'll still hate you!!"

  • alex anthony | February 15, 2012 8:37 PMReply

    This was a scatterbrained article with little cogency and a meandering narrative. It's tough to respond because there are so many points that need addressing.

    -Your attempt to redress Viola because she isn't down at Tisch doing student films is absurd. Stop it.

    -Freedom for black people means freedom to do anything, even things you disagree with. So for better or worse, black women with hair extensions and implants and all other trappings of modern aesthetics have the right to do so, even if it disagrees with your political sentiments. *That's* what freedom is.

    -Re: Viola and black filmmakers and screenwriters... the problem is complex. You have many talented filmmakers and writers - all working disparately. The natural problem with young filmmakers is capital, but the natural advantage of young filmmakers is sweat equity and sheer numbers. Having many filmmakers languish without access to capital and without the platform for organization is a serious problem that needs addressing.

    -Re: swooping something up after Sundance, etc., that's a defensible strategy, because it mitigates risk for the purchaser that the film is perceived as respectable. What you're suggesting is another way of finding talented filmmakers - and that's a conversation in and of itself. The truth is that there are a lot of mediocre/poor/redundant filmmakers out there as well.

  • LeonRaymond | February 15, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    And with all that being said -please come out and watch a film done by Producers I have and continue to work with, as I mentioned , I am a Black film maker who works in the Latino film industry and this project is one of many but check it out please and lets work together to make films right now!!!!

  • Nicole | February 15, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    WOW!!! We have discussed this topic to death. But when all is said and done, I have only one question...what changes? What will we DO? What will be different ten years from now? Will we be having this same conversation when another version of 'The Help' comes out 10 or 20 years from now?

    Until we(black filmmakers, actors/actresses, audiences) DO something different, this is all talk.

  • BONDGIRL | February 15, 2012 3:07 AMReply

    This op-ed piece is so full of shit. You're going to write a sister-to-sister letter to someone, and start it off criticizing their hair? What kind of self-indulgent, superficial garbage is that? You say, "Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep perpetuating falsehoods." Ohhh, I get it now. You would like to control the TRUTH of black people and their legacy, as YOU see it. According to people such as yourself, you are the judge and jury on what stories of our community gets told, right? The self-proclaimed celluloid historian? If black people aren't raped and beaten in a revisionist film, it's whitewashing. Then when the violence is raw and uncut a la Django Unchained, it's exploitative and racist. Dammit, which is it that you'd like? The comments about her taking the role for pay are a given...what actor takes a Dreamworks project for scale? What planet are you transmitting your work from, because you're not on Earth. Next, you bring up the black screenwriters of NYU. I'm an NYU alum, and I've received garbage from MFA screenwriters. Just like Julliard, there're some good and rotten apples in the bunch. Outside of that, has any of them reached out to Viola? I'm not talking about a phone call or email to her agent's assistant 6 months ago. She is a 2-time Oscar nominee...why is it incumbent upon her to reach out to anyone? Shouldn't they beat a path to her door? I know what you're going to say....they've tried and failed, blah blah blah. BULLSHIT!!! Here's why: Viola Davis is not Michelle Obama, okay? She doesn't have armed guards who'll break your jaw in two places. She's just a celebrity, meaning if the FREAKING PAPARAZZI know her every move, a black screenwriter looking to get a script to her should too. I don't buy the "Viola's unreachable" tear-jerker/victim excuse...that talk is for losers with no imagination and even lesser inventive screenplay. If I had a perfectly written script for her type, I wouldn't take no for an answer. She is a person...she goes to her favorite restaurants, her favorite hair dressers, her favorite coffee shop, her favorite manicurist, etc. Find those places and you find Viola. In LA it's even easier because there's 3 degrees of separation between you and a lot of actors. Hell, it took me less than 5 minutes to find out she's in NYC for Fashion Week now...any so-called creative screenwriter should be sitting in front of her hotel with a copy of their script waiting outside since 5 am....same thing the white writer does who you resent. He eats ramen noodles for 2 yrs churning out his magnum opus, then makes his move on a name actor. This is exactly why black people aren't geting shit done...if you can't even figure out how to reach someone- a person that CRAZY ass stalkers can, you should get out of the business TODAY. Your mind is weak. Halle Berry's stalker is on every website figuring out how to get back in her house, and folks are bitching about Viola's agent not returning an email?? Wah, wah, wah. A white screenwriter left the script for Rain Man on Dustin Hoffman's front door....he read it, and the rest is history. Get your damn mind right people. Filmmakers, you are part of the problem!

  • GirlComic | February 20, 2012 12:24 PM

    Tis True. #thatwasFire

  • Curtis | February 15, 2012 8:31 PM

    @BondGirl - Ok I see that you’re like the Bill O’Reilly of this thread. LOL! Shout down your opponents, call them names, be condescending, but not really saying anything and dancing around the issue.

    I’m immature, lazy and what else did I miss?

    Thank you for the life lessons on learning to cope with rejection and not feeling detracted. I didn’t know; you’ve enlightened me with your wisdom.

    RSVP for my “pity party?”

    Seriously who are you talking to? Read my comment again before you lash out.

    All this screaming about learning to cope with rejection and all that nice talk about making things happen by any means necessary isn’t the point. Pay attention. I never said anything about not trying to make things happen any way you can. I even agree with you on that. The point is that it ALSO applies to the people on the other side, the actors and actresses. NOT just the writers and the filmmakers. I responded to YOUR comment which was an attack against filmmakers.

    Viola may not have said that she hasn’t reached out to unknown indie filmmakers, but she didn’t say that she was doing that either did she? If you have video of her saying that she’s making that kind of effort share it. I’m responding primarily to your comment that the burden falls on the filmmaker’s shoulders and because she’s an Oscar-nominee means she doesn’t have to work at getting the kind of projects she prefers. Really? If that’s your argument, I can't agree.

    During the press tour for THE HELP since last summer, she’s been singing the same song over and over about how hard it is for black actresses and how no one is banging down her door. So what’s new? Black actors and actresses have been saying that shit for decades. It didn’t start with Viola Davis.

    So who’s the one throwing the pity party?

    She’s NEVER once said anything about reaching out to young black filmmakers. NEVER. And the one time she finally mentions anything about black filmmakers is with this kinda destructive comment? Give me a break!

    If things are that tough and she’s that desperate for work then there’s absolutely no reason why any filmmaker should have to stalk and hound her, 2 Oscar noms or not. The bottomline is do you want to work on projects that are of interest to you? And how badly do you want it?

    Yeah she’s working with Dee Rees now. Would she have worked with her before Dee Rees had a 2-picture deal with Focus, or signed with a Hollywood agent? Dee Rees BEFORE all the hype from Pariah? Would she have taken the role of the mother that Kim Wayans played and has now gotten a lot of accolades for? Dee Rees said that Viola Davis has been an actress she’s wanted to work with. You think she might even have reached out to Viola to play the role Kim Wayans played? Because maybe you don’t know this but Kim Wayans wasn’t the first choice for the role. She wasn’t even in consideration. She had to earn it.

    But oh yeah, she’s not an Oscar nominee like Viola so she’s supposed to earn what she gets and somehow Viola is exempt.

    I’m not angry at her, although you seem quite angry at somebody yourself. Maybe you’re just not sure who to scream at. I’m a fan of Viola Davis. I actually wish she’d just stop talking about THE HELP, the role, why she took it, what’s available for black actresses and all that. She doesn’t have to defend her choices. She took a role, it’s a job. She doesn’t owe anybody anything.

    Repeatedly explaining and defending her situation and going on about the challenges she faces as a black actress and then now bringing black filmmakers into the argument as if we’re in any way responsible for her situation, and not expect some backlash, is naive! And it goes against everything that YOU (my friend) have said about fortitude, experience and all those wonderful life lessons you’re trying to school me on.

    I’m glad that she’s started a production company and finally seems to be taking matters into her own hands.

    Like I said before, Please! Just change your name to Bill O'Reilly and let's call it a day so I know exactly what kind of person I'm dealing with. LOL!

  • Jug | February 15, 2012 4:43 PM

    @Bondgirl-Why does it feel like we're back to back in a bar fight? LOL

  • BONDGIRL | February 15, 2012 4:27 PM

    @Curtis, Viola never said she hasn't reached out to filmmakers...she stated the ones who reached her submitted unacceptable content. She is working with a great indie filmmaker, an NYU one, so why are you still barking? You're angry at the system, so you're lashing out at her for not doing YOUR due diligence. NYU can't teach you moxie or true grit, you have to learn that on your own. You asked me how often does it [script approval] happen? 99% of the time, it doesn't. If you're looking to work in an industry with great odds, go to law school...your chances of becoming a successful lawyer with an NYU degree are pretty good. However, no one has gotten success from counting how many "no's" they get...not Trump, Tyra Banks, Reginald Lewis, no one. So if you feel thwarted every time an agent doesn't fall over himself to call you, you've chosen the wrong profession. I heard someone the other day say, "When someone says no, thank them! Get happy! Now you know where you stand!" Sorry Curtis, but I can't RSVP to your pity party. I've had my share of rejection too. I've had Harvey Weinstein look me in the face and say NO. I've had Spike Lee's agent say NO. Who cares..I've gotten yes's as well. It's not simplistic, it's succinct when you have to make a way, where there is no way. I have stood outside a bldg waiting to speak to someone I was aiming to work with, why are you too good to do it? I mentioned "stalker" to be tongue in cheek, but that is what is done. If you have a legitimate business reason, then it's not predatory. The fact that you don't even view it as a realisitic method to achieve your goal, illuminates your level of immaturity in perfunctory business tactics. Read any billionaire's autobiography, and I dare you to find one who didn't do that to a prospective client or employer. Just say you're too lazy to do it, not that it doesn't work. Unknown rappers stand outside of Jay-Z's office EVERY day. Fortitude pays in dividends, friend. I'm speaking from experience, not philosophy.

  • Curtis | February 15, 2012 1:06 PM


    Maybe because she's the one (and many others) who's been bitching about the lack of roles for black women in Hollywood and she has to take what she can get. If that doesn't light a fire under her ass to get up and either create work for herself or pair up with some young up-and-comers with interesting unique ideas then I don't know what will.

    And if it's so damn easy to not only reach these actors in industry like Viola, but also get them onboard your project, you don't think we'd be seeing a lot more of that right now? I'm an NYU MFA grad as well and you don't think that I've sent scripts to agents left, right and sideways, but don't get responses or even a "we received it and will get back to you."

    You're being far too simplistic in your description of how this things work, and all the ridiculous comparisons you make to stalkers and paparazzi. GTFOH with that!

    So you're suggesting that we should go hound and stalk Viola Davis like a bunch of nuts and, well, hey at least we'll get her attention right?

    I know someone who did that with an actor, and another time with a director, and you know what both told him? Go through my agent. I don't accept unsolicited scripts.

    So, nice examples of all the white writers who've gotten scripts to actors using unconventional means and seen the scripts turn into movies. But exactly how often does that happen? Most people go through the regular channels AS THEY SHOULD.

    I talked to Wendell Pierce last year and he's telling me he ACTIVELY goes out looking for projects that suit him. He gets scripts through his agent but many of them aren't good for him, or just not good period. So what do you do in that situation instead of getting on national TV and blasting black filmmakers?

    Using your own words: if an actress like Viola or whoever can't even figure out how to reach filmmakers, she should get of the business TODAY.

    The bottomline for me is this: she blasted black filmmakers for not being imaginative with their work for her; a filmmaker reacted and responded and made some good points that some of y'all just completely missed because you're anxious to retort.


  • Akimbo | February 15, 2012 11:46 AM

    YES. Thank you for this response. This whole article was propped up with so many faulty premises that it makes me question the author's supposed talents as a filmmaker...which makes me understand why she might be so defensive. Inferring that Viola Davis, of all people, is a famewhore? Naively believing that getting into NYU means you're talented? Thinking that Viola, who has grinded for half her life to become an almost star OWES the aspiring black filmmaker something? Just ridiculous, through and through. Here's a tip to young creators: instead of chasing celebrities who have been where you've been, take a page out of Spike's book and identify your talented peers. Collaborate with them and help build each other up. Stop begging people more accomplished and experienced than you for a hand out. If you've got the goods, people will take note.

  • NYU Grad Film Grad | February 15, 2012 11:20 AM

    Thank you Bond Girl. I read Ms. Steele's polemic and had remained silent because it's her right to state her opinion here. Although, I too find it a muddy and disgraceful one because she didn't even watch the film in question... actually that's lazy too. And this laziness is reprehensible in my opinion (quick side thought: Tambay/Shadow & Act World this laziness is actually a reflection on you... please correct it. You're writings are normally more rigorous than this. It's a shame.).

    A few main points or an open comment to Ms. Steele:

    -Stop complaining. It's not cute (sorry, lazy thinking is contagious). And please stop complaining when you haven't done your homework or work in general...

    -This whole ongoing argument seems pointless when Indie African-American women directors are winning best director at Sundance and actually being employed (see Dee Rees - i.e. do your homework) by the actress receiving your ad homonym attacks.

    -It's embarrassing (and frankly unproductive) to watch creatives attempt to rise by knocking other creatives. Stop it please. Do your own work. That would speak volumes. The path is already laid out... see the aforementioned female directors...

  • tski loverton | February 14, 2012 11:38 PMReply

    Interesting. As a Black male I have always strongly preferred natural hair on sistas since teenage years (and after much soul and otherwise-searching married a "natchel" blkwoman). To me the real question is, will Viola Davis, now that Hollywood is feeling her a lil' bit and she's got Charlize in her corner:), ever perform a film WITH her natural hair... Lord knows she looks much better au naturel, than with those awful, obvious wigs, but the powers that be and Black Filmakers don't seem to get it. Afro-ed, dreaded, natural-haired sistas are all over TV commercials but have yet to crossover to celluloid... why?

  • kiki | February 14, 2012 11:36 PMReply

    I don't believe she intended to "throw black filmmakers under the bus". However, I think that she has a valid gripe when it comes to how someone with her look continues to be cast. Black filmmakers can be as bad or WORSE than non-blacks when it comes to COLORISM and pigeonholing actresses into stereotypical castes. Darker women RARELY play leading roles. They are typically the sassy sidekick, ghetto ho or jealous bitch foil to the light-skinned leading lady.

    Let's keep it honest.

  • a reader | February 14, 2012 8:59 PMReply

    "Just say you want the paycheck and the exposure."

    ^THIS^. I respect Viola Davis' talent. She's a superb actress. But I think her decision to take on The Help and Doubt boiled down to a paycheck and exposure. I think she herself said she struggled mightily before agreeing to the Help. She herself acknowledged that reason she struggled was because she knew the character would come across as one-dimensional. SO. I asks you: what tilted her over the edge when she KNEW what type of story and character would be put on the big screen. My guess: "the paycheck and the exposure."

  • Mark | February 16, 2012 12:45 PM

    Really, what's so bad with that? All actors take jobs to pay the bills. Some make crappy b-movies. Others will do a direct to DVD.

    Davis made the help and got an Oscar nomination and became famous.

    Seriously, how many people talking trash about Viola Davis now had anything to say about her before the Help came out?

  • misha | February 14, 2012 5:09 PMReply

    Ms. Steele, what else is there to say but...Brava! Brava, Ms. Steele!

  • LeonRaymond | February 14, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    @Jug and Mark I hear you both and thanks for sure, take my word for it I am not bitter at all, I have moved on to working with in deeply with the Latino film community and there stuff gets produced, there is a sense of camaraderie, and the scripts I use to send to Black actors of name, I don't even bother any more, I send them to a Latino actor or actress and get a response and working relationship develops, my current project has three producers that have major project coming out in March theatrically that was geared for the Latino audience , one my actors has been in three major films. I find a real joy working in the Latino film community, there is a huge support system and many who jump on board to help with your project. I don't look back to working in the Black film industry and you never get a question as to if the project is a stereotype or not what you get is , questions of is it SAG or Non SAG and how much rehearsal time. I would beckon any Black filmmaker to jump on that side of the industry and there are a huge amount of Latino women filmmakers. but I see you and Mark have the right head on your shoulders and sound to be real industry folk who know the ropes and understand the real world with out the Sugar sweet depictions of how people think the industry is. Watch out for a super Latino actress La Caridad De La Luz - aka Labruja ( Down to the Bone, Gun Hill Road, Bamboozled ) she is one our core actresses and she will be huge!!!!

  • Jug | February 14, 2012 5:06 PM

    That's what's up! I saw you said that some time ago on another post &I thought "Damn, I feel dudes pain!" I may have even responded to you about it LOL Keep doing your thang. My folks have a saying "Go Where You're Celebrated, Not Tolerated". Real Talk man.

  • Nadine | February 14, 2012 2:19 PMReply


  • C. R. S. | February 14, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    Great article Tanya!!!! The backlash is a compliment to your courage. Lord knows, no one has it anymore. People try to say that what Viola said about black filmmakers was taken out of context. NO IT WASN'T. It was plain and clear. Stand your ground!

  • urbanauteur | February 14, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    @Tanya, your essay is slammin like a bar-b-qued manifesto, good stuff!..;-)

  • get these nets | February 14, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    Has anybody taken a deep breath and thought about exactly what she said?

    I think she's getting scripts for those master p type films that have the super low budgets.

    Those "hood films" get cranked out consistently and are generally based on some crime figure trying to change his life. After Viola played the grandmother in Get Rich or Die Trying, she got on the radar of every producer of these types of films and I'm certain that they are the ones sending her scripts to play the mother/grandmother of the "hustler" in these films.

    The brother Clifton Powell gets sent scripts to the same films.....and 99% of the time he is cast as the godfather/boss because of his screen presence.

  • lil nut | February 14, 2012 11:56 AMReply

    let's seismic shift this shit! every nigga writing a decalogue styled diatribe of their opinion need to close the web browser, open final draft and craft a game changer. too much shit talking, too little warrior walking. erybody shut the f*ck up and let's get it! btw, nice kudos for intelligently articulating your say, tanya steele.

  • Boogieboa | February 14, 2012 10:23 AMReply

    Black people are so damn moody sometimes. Two beautiful women get roles in a Hollywood film. They act their parts so well that they're nominated for Oscars against all odds. Large numbers of folks are criticising them because these two African American actresses played maids in The Help. Why? I don't get it. Go out and make films for them to star in or shut-the-hell up. What's complicated about that? I tell you one thing for nothing, I'd rather play a maid in The Help than to star as Precious. Now, there's a stereotype, if ever I saw one.

  • Mark | February 14, 2012 10:05 AMReply

    I just do not like this attack on Viola Davis. None of the success she's acquired of late came to her overnight. And to the poster who suggested that the world doesn't need another artist if they are only doing it for money, well, that sounds perfect in theory, but the reality is that money and taking care of oneself is a factor. But here's a question: It is worse or more stereotypical for Octavia Spencer (who played Minny in the film and is also getting her big break after years of toiling in brief, supporting parts) to play the maid in "The Help" or to play the daffy medium in "Dinner With Schmucks"? Is it worse for Halle Berry to play a crackhead in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" than to play a working class mother who uses sex with a white racist prison guard to assuage her grief in Marc Forster's "Monster's Ball"? Is it worse for Viola Davis to play the drug counselor in Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" or to play the put-upon mother in John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt"? Did Angela Bassett help the "cause" any by appearing as a put-upon mother encouraging her son to pursue his athletic dreams with that bumbling Mr. Brown in "Meet the Browns"? I guess we can find something wrong with the depictions of black people by filmmakers of all races. The problem we are facing here is much larger than anything Ms. Steele is quoting or misquoting Viola Davis as having said and it is certainly much bigger than Ms. Davis or Ms. Spencer's roles in "The Help". Spike Lee was attacked for making the same comments about Tyler Perry's films, but because the community at large LOVES those films so much, there isn't much argument about stereotypes and setting the black community back, particularly in this age of Obama. I don't care that Viola Davis might possibly win the Oscar for playing Aibileen. I am just glad that finally someone recognizes what most of us here posting on this site have known for years: that she is a spectacular and erudite actress who loves the craft of acting and deserves to thrust into the consciousness of the movie going public for that love, for the way she projects that love and for the beauty that radiates within her. That's my (by now) ten cents!

  • Charles | February 14, 2012 9:57 AMReply

    Somebody add Tanya Steele to the Frustrated Black Filmmakers list. This article is ridiculous.

  • A.J. Muhammad | February 14, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    Tanya, I wish that Viola can have a real conversation with black filmmakers where she can clarify her statement that all she's offered are crack mamas. It sounds like a sound bite with out shading or details and that's probably what the writer wanted: to be sensational. There are Black actors who do give Black indie filmmakers a chance: Ava Duvernay has worked with seasoned Black actors on both of her features. Qasim Basir, Salim Akil, Gina Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons can only get their low budget-by-Hollywood-standard movies made if they have well known Black actors in the lead. And Tanya, it's ironic that you mentioned that you didn't know when was the last time you seen a white women look so weathered down because just a few years ago there was a spoof on the Oscars about how Charlize Theron always "hags" it up for her Oscar nominated movies (Monster, North County etc) as opposed to Keira Knightly who has the courage to always look "beautiful" in her movies. Surely, you've seen actresses like Halle Berry (Jungle Fever, Isaiah etc), Tilda Swinton, Emma Thompson, The Redgraves, etc. appear un-glam as a role calls for and even on Broadway Cynthia Nixon has had to shave her head and be nude for her role in Wit...

    I know that there are indie filmmakers (black, white, or whichever ethnicity they may be) who Viola will work with on the right project. As a good friend of mine says, there are too many actors and not enough parts to go around because let's not even talk about the actors who came before Viola who can't even get arrested by anybody and I can think of dozens of Black women actress who are Viola's contemporaries/peers who have been MIA for a long time.

    There is a danger of you holding people to playing in films that falsify history because that's what filmmaking is--changing things to tell a story/get a point across/altering the truth as fits an artists vision/expecting the audience to suspend their disbelief even when we know it's fantasy... Who in their right mind thought The Help was a documentary!

    And you said nothing of internalize racism--even among the new spate of Black filmmakers, playwrights and other artists which may be the reason why somebody only sees an actor in a certain way... Maybe that's overstating the obvious...
    Let's hope that Viola does choose a film directed by an NYU Black Grad film alum... Calling Seith Mann, Tanya Steele, Stacey Holman, Rod Gailes, Dee Rees, Rashad Green, Booker Mattison, James Richards, Nikyata Jusu...

  • Deana | February 14, 2012 12:23 AMReply

    "Black folks have the capital and the talent but, for some reason, people don't trust black women filmmakers to tell our stories."

    Perhaps there is a lack of trust in our community that goes beyond "the industry." I know that if someone wrote such judgmental things about me over something so trivial as a movie role, I would not trust them as a work colleague either.

    The fact is, there is a LOT of garbage out there in terms of scripts and this makes it all the more difficult for quality work to get in front of those who have the power to green-light a film. On that note, if it takes Lucas (and he is 'White Rich') 20 years to get a film with a predominantly Black cast made, then how do you expect Viola Davis to get a film made just because she is in it? Perhaps, this role in The Help could put Ms. Davis in a better position to make that happen. Did you ever think of that?
    I saw The Help, in a theatre full of White Folks who were outwardly sobbing. This film may not have been important to you but it is important in that it placed a mirror up to American audiences and forced many to confront prejudices harbored by both Blacks and Whites. The first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem, right?

    The bottom line, the Black film industry will continue to suffer if we have the attitude that we have to tear each other down when we don't agree with someones choice of roles, career direction, etc. You don't see other cultures doing that!

    If you have a great script, hire some amazing unknown actors, find a talented and hungry crew and shoot it yourself!

  • Deborahsue Filmmaker | February 14, 2012 12:11 AMReply

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article, it is always great to find talks that touches on filmmaking, and where African American filmmakers are. I consider myself an all around talent in front of the camera as well as behind it. I am still learning my craft and plan to produce my own vehicles to showcase. Regardless to what others do or do not do, I am in this for the long haul, regardless to the stars I may or may not work with.

    I create stories that are fun, crazy, out of the world and man just things that I always wanted to do while growing up. I love writing, creating, falling in love, and out of love. I love action movies so I ave some of them.
    Then I have my musicals, horror, shorts, music videos. But all are for minority casting.
    For now I am in a area where there are very few African Americans that want to act.
    I would love to work with any one at this time, anything to get my story to life, put some legs on it.
    Again I love the article and glad it is open for chat.

  • james | February 14, 2012 12:08 AMReply

    I have to admit the crack head script thing from Viola Davis threw me off and I grew up around crackheads. But that was a long time ago. So I pondered those must be black film makers caught in a time warp or she is perhaps exaggerating how bad finding a good script is. I listen to white film podcast some of these guys and women were readers and they confess to having to had read some awful scripts. I bet most of them riddled with typical mainstream white stereotypes.

    I suppose perhaps thats what Ms Davis meant in some way but it sure did sting when she said it. Yet she was so descriptive its like she was dying to express the statement.

    As for she has to get paid, hey so do mob bookies but I cant shed a tear when they dont.
    I always remind myself when as artist we make certain choices we cant hide behind getting paid.

    Truth is the world doesnt need another artist if all they care about is getting paid.

  • Troy | February 13, 2012 11:54 PMReply

    Well, the one thing I love about being an artist is you can create whatever the hell you want to; i.e your body of work.

  • LeonRaymond | February 13, 2012 10:10 PMReply


    I think it's about serious access and this ongoing clique shit that is killing us all, I have a super producer working with me, we had seriously awesome project set and sent it to Viola way before DOUBT way before THE HELP, my producer had Kim Bassinger and Susan Sarrandon on speed dial and we wanted Viola to play a serious role that would not be a crack head or any disrespectful role , she would have had the role of playing a woman watching over a young girl caught up in gang life and taking a road trip to return that young girl to her family. We sent every method possible to get her , she never responded , in part cause she never heard of the producer or myself even though there was funding ready. and then I hear these statements and to me it's a slap in the face. I don't at all deal in Black Hollywood anymore as I work with and in the Latino film community cause they stick together and know what working together means , but damn hey I have a ton of super talented well connected writers who work with me, I am sorry there is no excuse , if she wants screenplays that are strong and highly imaginative it is far too easy to get access to them and us as a group. I know a writer who is Black who has some of the most awesome stuff I have read but he has grown so tired of the Black clique. he wrote a powerful story of a female undercover cop who became such a monster her own family had to hire some one to protect them against her. And the person he wanted to play that role was none other than you guessed it Viola Davis , what was the response he got, sorry she does not take screenplays from people she does not know or unsolicited screenplays. so we had our agent contact her people and still no response. They the producers has moved on and they were shocked to hear that statement that some of the stuff she gets are worse than what white writers send her. I am floored but not surprised, you see the Help does not bother me for jack what does is okay what are you going to do next we can take you to the next level but the Black clique is supreme. you can get to Queen Latifah with scripts her door is wide open, there are many others who are ready. so don't go on TV and say she is not getting quality projects cause I am 1 of thousands that I know of !!!!

  • Donella | June 25, 2013 2:47 PM

    I've also experienced the gatekeeping and sometimes, it is a high mountain to climb. I do believe Viola Davis might have a conversation with her gatekeepers so she has access to more than the crackhead roles they're allowing through.

  • Mark | February 14, 2012 9:53 AM

    I hear you, Leon. It is a tough business all around and Jug already said pretty much what I would have in response. When I was busy trying to get films made--and I have since backed away from it and took another route though I still write and focus on films and the film business--I would think, "Oh, this person, who I really love as an actor, doesn't work that much, so I know I can get this script through to them." I found it was incredibly difficult to get things to those people as well. Now, I realize that might have been because I didn't have the contacts that you seem to have from reading your post, but I do know that things happen and there are agents who intercept a lot of scripts and offers. They read them and don't think them worthy of their client's time or they just throw them away altogether. I saw and was told that happens. This business is more about luck than talent I've found. So, that said, I wish you the best of luck getting your script produced. I will look for it on the screen.

  • Akimbo | February 14, 2012 4:26 AM

    Amen, Jug. The majority of scripts are shit, no matter who writes them. Why is everyone all up in arms and trying to protect this mythical legion of brilliant black filmmakers from Viola Davis? There is no such group. Great storytellers (of any ethnicity) are few and far between, so how can we be surprised that the woman is constantly offered crackhead roles by derivative filmmakers who can't see past her role in Antwone Fisher? I know most of us here fancy ourselves incredibly gifted, but truth is, most of us don't have "it."

  • Jug | February 14, 2012 12:00 AM

    Leon, I feel your pain. I've been there. But real talk, this is a business where everybody and their momma has a script & it's always the best script ever. Not saying yours isn't, what I'm saying is in order to protect yourself from legal action & to not drown in a deluge of submissions, you gotta check 'em at the door. Good ones get turned away sometimes, cost of doing business. It happens man, you keep on pluggin'. But like I said, that's where you have to seek the scripts out-You, put a mandate to your people, etc...that was on her. And just because you like it doesn't mean she will. That happens too. I've read many a script & loved it & someone else thought it was poo. We just agree to disagree. But I knew they read it. Do you know for sure she read it & blew you off? Or are you responding to a personal feeling for the script, how you feel about it..that it should be read? Question, have you read every script that came to you? I have a slew that were given to me that I haven't even gotten to cuz I'm reading stuff I'm doing now-or trying to do at least LOL & I'm no star at all. If she got it, read it & said "no" I get it. The reason may be money, script revisions, whatever but it was in her court. That's different. But also you & I both know there's more to a "No" than "No", or else everything would get made. But I get you about the cliques, Black & the otherwise. But that's how folks get down..unfortunately.

  • Darla & Mark | February 13, 2012 10:56 PM

    The screenplay you describe sound very interesting, unsolicited screenplays are sometime the best screenplays out there.

  • Patricia | February 13, 2012 10:08 PMReply

    "If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have moved forward in America." #TRUTH. This was a brilliantly-written and incisive piece.

  • SonOfBaldwin | February 13, 2012 10:07 PMReply

    Ms. Steele,

    I don't care what anyone else says, this piece you wrote is MAGNIFICENT. It's so truthful as to be sublime.

    White supremacist apologists will, of course, disagree.

  • Sheryl | February 13, 2012 9:55 PMReply

    Oh boo frickin' hoo. Stop whining and start WRITING! Write something so great that you'll make stars out of nobodies - you won't even NEED the services of already-established stars! In fact, make them come to YOU! Write something so great and compelling that your name will become revered and celebrated in your own lifetime! But most of all, LEARN TO WRITE! That includes perfecting your spelling and grammar - even on an obscure blog, it counts. If you're going to dismiss - out of hand - something you've never even seen, why are you then so surprised someone does the same with YOUR work? To call a portrayal - again, one that you've never seen - "inaccurate" is to have never known women like Hazel B. Mitchell (my Grandmother), who WAS one of those women…one of those maids who seem to embarrass you so much. I really hope you reach your lofty aspirations, Ms. Steele. I really do. But PLEASE stop whining about the work of others. It's not enriching your life in any way.

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