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Watch Now: Viola Davis On Contending With The Scripts She Gets From Black Filmmakers

by Cynthia Reid
February 9, 2012 1:32 PM
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If you haven't figured it out by now, S&A is a big fan of Viola Davis and that admiration started long before the The Help which has catapulted her career.  In this recent spotlight interview with Nightline, she talks about her background and why she decided to accept the role as a maid. 

Most of the conversation we're pretty familiar with, based on previous interviews, but what I did find eye-opening with this piece is her description of the scripts she's receiving from black filmmakers.

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  • LeonRaymond | March 9, 2012 3:00 PMReply

    @BONDGIRL, I have to take my cap and Hat off to you, you got a lot on the cap, I hope your a filmmaker cause you have an enormous amount of insight and real understanding through experience of how the industry works. Your point is right on the mark. question did you listen to the S&A interview (podcast) of Datari Turner as he broke down the industry in Non racial terms? in any case keep on laying down your wise insights I tune in to listen!!!

  • franseca | March 9, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Great interview but yeah, "what did she teach you" playing the character of a maid (and winning an oscar for it.) that comment coming from the white interviewer is so condescending, especially in light of Viola telling the interviewer about the early years of her life in racist America. Well, if anything that Hollywood will never change and it is just as racist as ever. Hollywood Burn. Of course Viola has to play it straight if she wants to work. Remember what happened to the most promising actress of her time of any race: Angela Bassett

  • Donella | February 10, 2012 4:30 PMReply

    I like that Viola Davis expresses her thoughts clearly and thoughtfully. Looks like writers need to get to work. Step up the game.

  • a reader | February 11, 2012 5:31 AM

    @Donella. Viola Davis giving life to one of Ms. Butler's works. Now THAT would be awesome.

  • Donella | February 10, 2012 5:00 PM

    I'd love to see Viola Davis represent an Octavia Butler work onscreen--Dana (Kindred), Lilith (Xenogenesis), or Laura (Parable of the Talents). She would probably have to share the role of Laura with a younger actress for Parable of the Sower--Rutina Wesley maybe. However, production companies have sat on Butler's film options for years without making any effort to actually bring these phenomenal stories to screen. At my last inquiry, Dreamworks owned the option to Kindred, a time travel novel. Published in 1979, this film could have been easily produced years ago. Same with Xenogenesis and Parable series, apocalyptic storylines that would translate well to film. All of these works feature a Black female not as a girlfriend, wife, concubine, but in a leadership role in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. I believe Davis would blaze these roles given the opportunity. Thoughts on this?

  • BONDGIRL | February 10, 2012 10:41 AMReply

    A black filmmaker is making a movie called "SKINJA". Wanna know what it's about? A single black mother, who's a stripper and a ninja. Le sigh. Yeah, these are the turds that are being made by our people. Its not just filmmaking either. I've read some of the roles that Viola has played on Broadway...they are all down-trodden characters. She's been playing the low-brow woman waaaay before Hollywood came calling. Also, I recall being pissed that Denzel cast her as the crack addicted mother in "Antoine Fisher", and Yolonda Ross as the molester, yet allowed Salli Richardson to be his wife. Denzel has a reputation for being a conscious brother, so I didn't take umbrage like I probably would've someone else, but it did bother me initially. When it comes to how black writers (see: male) are creating women (particularly dark-skinned)on film, it most certainly is neo-minstrel. If done well and there's complexity or originality, I don't mind. Usually though, it's banal and the stories are repetitive. The biggest reason there's a lack of imagination amongst us is because of black people's intimidation with Hollywood. We tell each other how "they" won't let us make it, and the creativeness becomes flacid. When you have a "sky's the limit" attitude, the ideas flow energetically; there's no blockage. The stories come seemingly out of nowhere. We are prognosticators in music and sports because we tell each other that Jews love to sign musicians to their label, hence no anxiety to achieving as a rapper or athlete. We create dope albums such as Like Water for Chocolate or The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill because our friends aren't telling us that white people won't let us rap. So the verses come to them in dreams, while driving, or making love. Black people and our negativity towards achievement in film entertainment is crippling our collective success.

  • franseca | March 10, 2012 4:08 AM

    Hi Bondgirl: Can you please explain this broad generalization:
    "Black people and our negativity towards achievement in film entertainment is crippling our collective success."
    Thank You.

  • sandra | February 10, 2012 9:13 AMReply

    It was reported on this website that Viola has a production company, but the name was not given at the time. I can't find it online. Does anyone know?

  • Moionfire | July 28, 2012 3:37 PM

    This is a late response, but Viola's production company is JuVee.

  • KEiTH_ANDRE | February 10, 2012 2:13 AMReply

    I Love Viola Davis and I am very much appreciative of the dialogue you all continue to create!

  • stars | February 10, 2012 1:54 AMReply

    FINALLY, SOMEBODY ADMITTED IT!!!! Damn Black Filmmakers are perpetuators of the minstrel derragotory racial stereotypes as much as white filmmakers!!! For dark-skinned thick peeps in the biz have been the worst offenders. They are a top reason our wonderful chocolate berries DON'T work. Sigh....there are just not enough Halle Berry's to go around. Black Filmmakers: You have no business offering crack addict, ho, maids, and angry violent down trodden women to any black actress in this day and age! GET OUT THE BUSINESS!!! You're toxic and bad for our people. Free your mind so you can write scripts about the positive things we've done and currently doing. If you wanna be "cutting edge" bring some depth and 3 demensional characters into play. Dark women fall in love, work, invent things, go through an arc of change, and change the world. They are powerful and intelligent. They are Michelle Obama and Oprah please. Use that as a barometer when you picture a dark-skinned woman. No maid in The Help was light-skinned that's for sure. I don't care how "wonderful" the performance is we dont' need to be playing these roles for ANY (trumped up reason of intellect) Sorry STOP IT. I'm talking to all the STEPHEN FETCHIT'S OUT THERE THAT DARE CALL THEMSELVES FILMMAKERS.

  • PN | February 9, 2012 11:54 PMReply

    I was OK with the interview - Viola Davis was great throughout - until Cynthia McFadden closed with her "teaching" statement. (Check at 5:37). SMDH -WHY is it that WE African-Americans have to be the "teachers" ALL of the time about things racial??

  • Miles Maker | February 9, 2012 11:51 PMReply

    Well done.

  • Yolanda | February 9, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    Great interview. Viola is such a class act and this interview should dispel the notion that a lack of black filmmakers is why we don't get the Meryl Streep/Glenn Close three dimensional parts. There is a lack of imagination on both sides of the fence.

  • Nicole | February 9, 2012 7:27 PMReply

    Good interview.

  • LVFLG | February 9, 2012 7:19 PMReply

    well put SAADIYAH....and on-point.

  • saadiyah | February 9, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    It's not a surprise that Ms. Davis gets offered the same crap from Black film makers as she would from White ones. When Black people, artists or otherwise, complain about the lack of (positive) representation in Hollywood, the solution you hear from other Blacks is that "Black people need to create and distribute their own." That won't guarantee much better roles for Black artists because many Black people who would/could produce movies have the same mindset of the White ones. They only see Black people in limited roles/experiences. Some only care about making money and if they have to exploit Black people, then that's exactly what they'll do.

    And on the Black people are writing from their own experiences, e.g. writing about being poor, crack addicted, etc. I'd like to know if Tolkien, Peter Jackson, the writers/producers of the Matrix or other fantasy or adventure movies lived those experiences for them to write about them or bring them to film? Was the creator of Silence of the Lambs a cannibal or Seven a serial killer? I'm saying it's a piss poor excuse to say that the types of scripts Viola gets offered is because of the creators' experience. Black people don't/can't have imaginations about what the world could be or was like at some time in history? They can't come with smart, thrilling, or frightening movies that aren't about life in the hood? If not, then we're doomed.

  • Anita Wright | February 9, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    I see what you see, I know what you know, and I think what you think. I am not holding my breath either.

  • reece x | February 9, 2012 3:45 PMReply

    I love Viola Davis! That is all.

  • Lvflg | February 9, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    yes but why ask her to play a crack addicted mom? why not ask her to play the Doctor or facilitator that helps the addict get off crack. Or why not build the story around a lawyer or
    judge who helps an addict by sending him/her to rehab instead of jail. Such people exist.

  • Haqi | February 9, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    The only problem with what she says about the scripts black writers give her is that she didn't say that they are writing from their experience. We've just come out of 20 years of crack and a lot of people want to tell their story about it. Luckily I like science fiction and fantasy so I can create outside of my environmental experience. If other's could she would get more diverse scripts.

  • lvlfg | February 9, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    yes i agree it is eye-opening. Black filmmakers: when you look at Viola Davis is this what you see? A crack addicted mom????? Cmon black ppl. And if she wants to wear a wig so what! We don't take white actresses to task for wearing wigs??????????

  • Sergio | February 9, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    So I see she's gone back to wearing a wig. But you're right she doesn't say anything new that we don't know about already but I'm sure it must have been surprising to white people

  • Terri | February 9, 2012 10:56 PM

    On The View, Ms. Davis said that she went to the LA Times shoot with her wigs but the photographer said "but I love your hair" and encouraged her to photograph without her wigs. The photographs added dimension to her overall public persona ... I was not as interested in her until I saw her capacity for playfulness and glamor--the boldness of being seen wigless in those extraordinary pictures -- she would be exotic except I felt more myself looking at her! The only thing I like about the wigs on Davis is that they are a little creepy and I like the idea of her in twisted, dark, cerebral roles. But also passionate, sexy ones.

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