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Viola Davis Creates Production Company w/ Period Piece On Black Homesteaders + New HBO Deal Project

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 4, 2011 7:22 AM
8 Comments
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Just read a new Times magazine profile of Viola Davis in anticipation of the release of The Help, which she stars in. But don't worry, while the article laments Ms Davis' *unfair* status in the industry, having to play supporting BBF or downtrodden roles more often than not (she took the minister role in Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail partly because she'd gone 7 months without getting any other work at the time), I'm not going to talk about The Help (again).

Instead, what I'm usually most interested in when I read these profiles is whether there are any revelations of what new projects the person being profiled is working on - in this case, Viola Davis.

So, I'll draw your attention to this paragraph from the latter half of the piece:

Davis and Tennon have started a production company to try to expand the options for black actors, focusing first on a period piece about African-American homesteaders. She also has an HBO development deal for a program about a headmaster at a San Francisco private school. "This character does bad things for all the right reasons," says producer Margaret Nagle. "When I told Viola that, she was like, 'I'm there.' Another actor would say, 'It's really important to me that she be likable.'"

By the way, Tennon is Julius Tennon, her husband.

So, what do we have here? Well, glad to see that she's decided to go into producing work for herself and other black actors, starting with this period piece about African American homesteaders (as an aside, whenever I hear "African American" and "homesteader" in the same sentence, I almost always immediately think of Oscar Micheaux); and this development deal she has with HBO I knew absolutely nothing about... unless I'm just forgetting; but the project about the headmaster "who does bad things for all the right reasons" definitely has my curiosity. The fact that the character she'll play isn't "likable" as the producer of the project suggests, speaks to a previous post from Sergio about Viola excelling in a role as a greedy killer in an episode of Law & Order: CI. And as I hinted at in a previous post, after seeing The Help, I'm ready for her to play some bad-ass, unhinged, edgy character, instead of being caged up in these roles that I think limit what she's really capable of being, which, as the Times magazine profile notes, a leading lady.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about these ideas and projects. I hope to be able to interview her before The Help opens, and if I get my shot, you can bet that I'll be asking her to elaborate.

I know I said I wouldn't talk about The Help, but one interesting factoid from the profile that I shook my head at was this part:

Yet Davis is a leading actress stuck in supporting roles: onscreen, she keeps playing intense, downtrodden, decidedly unsexy characters. She gained weight for both Doubt and The Help and didn't spend much time in makeup. In real life, she works out six days a week in her garage with her college-linebacker-turned-actor husband Julius Tennon. "I wondered how they were going to make her look plump and matronly, because her body is rock hard," says Stockett...

Well damnit, can she be allowed to actually show off that rock-hard body on screen for once? I'm not saying she has to be naked, but enough with the "downtrodden, decidedly unsexy characters."

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8 Comments

  • RB | August 5, 2011 3:47 AMReply

    That's the way to do it! You have to take things into your own hands..Like Ava DuVernay said, you don't need permission…Just do it...

  • Adam Scott Thompson | August 5, 2011 2:04 AMReply

    Whatever allows her to never have to work for the C.O.A.T. (Coon Of All Time) again.

  • Tamara | August 4, 2011 12:00 PMReply

    Amazing news. Good for her. Great for "us". I look forward to whatever she brings to the table.

    Has Viola had the "right role" to showcase her bod? What kind of role should it be? I'm thinking espionage/action. And yes, my *girl-crush* is in place because I, too, recently read the article in Essence recently where she talked about working out. Gorgeous woman.

  • The Questioner | August 4, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    Oh God---I misspelled Julius Tennon's name. Sorry!

  • The Questioner | August 4, 2011 10:20 AMReply

    I commend Viola Davis and Julian Tannon for creating this start-up opportunity for actors of color. At the same time, there needs to be a full-out coup d'etat on the major Hollywood studios. The problems with corporate movie-making go well beyond racist and sexist discrimination. Look at all the abominable rom-coms, dudebro buddy flicks, and the atrocious remakes of Eighties comedies. This creative wasteland speaks for itself.

    In fact, the lack of artistic creativity and the racist-sexist discrimination writers and actors face are byproducts of the same problem: Hollywood's aversion to diversity. Women and people of color make up an enormous chunk of the movie-going audience, and yet they still can't produce movies that reflect the realities of the average audience member? Why are most employed writers and directors white men? Because most studio heads are. Then why are most studio heads white men? Good ole discrimination at the corporate level.

    It's an insidious Catch-22---the bigotry in the media and the bigotry in society at large reinforce and reproduce each other. Let's face it: most white men know nothing about daily reality for women and people of color (not to mention LGBT people). So when they do create female and non-white roles, we get a bunch of stereotypes. Until the average person is writing the story, we're never gonna see the average person on screen. Simple as that. So what are we gonna do?

  • Mecca | August 4, 2011 9:07 AMReply

    It's such a damn shame she had to star in that coonery-buffoonery "Madea Goes To Jail" crap because she couldn't find work for 7 months. smh

    Davis deserved an Oscar for her role in "Doubt" she stole the show. Instead, Hollywood gives it to that Spaniard gal for that dumb flick "Vicky, Christina, Barcelona".

    I really hope her future endeavors land her success. I am so pleased to hear that she is tapping into the business side of things. These days you can't wait on white folks to make promises and cut you a check you have to go out there and get it your self in order to survive in the land of white-Hollywood.

  • Jug | August 4, 2011 8:48 AMReply

    Hot. Shit. ! .

    Now, my dream is that she hits the pavement with these projects and has eyes in the back of her head. Expand not only the richness of the projects (that headmaster project sounds hot) but also the talent ("wow, that was a good movie..who is that guy again?")

    Congratz to Viola!

  • Orville | August 4, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    Viola Davis is obviously a talented actress and I commend her for trying to breakthrough the racist and sexist Hollywood system.
    Viola's situation is hardly unique, look at Angela Bassett, even Halle Berry isn't getting quality film roles anymore and they are more famous than Viola. Viola Davis is a 40 something black woman and unfortunately since Hollywood is a very sexist industry the quality film roles for women dry up after age 40. However, male actors regardless of their race seem to be acquire high profile film roles simply due to their gender. The gender discrimination women experience in Hollywood is disgusting.

    I think it is inspiring that Viola has decided to produce with HBO she can't wait for mainstream Hollywood to give her quality film roles. I won't go on a lot about the help but I just think it is so sad that The Help is the best movie role Viola has gotten since Doubt.

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