Viola Davis Says Nearly All-White Oscar Nominees Are a 'Symptom of a Much Greater Disease'

Illustration for article titled Viola Davis Says Nearly All-White Oscar Nominees Are a 'Symptom of a Much Greater Disease'

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Viola Davis weighed in on the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees. “The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system,” Davis said.

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Davis said that lack of black nominees is less about the Academy’s voting process and the result producers envisioning and casting white actors in major roles. “The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role?,” she asked. She added that producers should ask themselves, “Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”

She continued:

“The problem isn’t even our pay. You could probably line up all the A-list black actresses out there [and] they probably don’t make what one A-list white woman makes in one film. That’s the problem. You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”

Davis’s comments are a continuation of her speech following her history-making Emmy win in 2015. Davis, the first woman of color to win an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a drama series, said during her acceptance speech, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

When asked whether or not she thinks Chris Rock should join Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s boycott of the awards ceremony, Davis said:

“Like I said, the Oscars are not really the issue. It’s a symptom of a much greater disease. But if he does, I hope he takes it as an opportunity to make a statement, a social statement about change. It’s 2016.”

As for Davis, she won’t be attending the Oscars. “I’m gonna be on vacation,” she said.

Image via AP.

DISCUSSION

barchibald
barchibald

“The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role?,” she asked. She added that producers should ask themselves, “Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”

I think, for me, one of the biggest missed opportunities for racial diversity in casting is getting everyone to change their idea of “normal” casting - changing the everyman (or to a lesser extent, every woman) to a person of any race. A ton of this has to do with who is writing the script (generally people write protagonists that are their own gender/race) but if the race isn’t specified, default casting is white and that concept should be thrown out the window.

This is especially annoying because it’s such an easy fix, and because true diversity in story telling is not simply event or historical movies about MLK or slavery, it’s a big budget romantic comedy with a black woman as the heroine. Or a giant tentpole action movie with an Asian guy as the hero.

And as for people who think that would be financially risky - look at the box office for Straight Outta Compton. And, even more appropriately, Creed! Creed did great and Michael B Jordan is a total star who could do any genre. In fact, there was a great article in Slate about why the Creed Oscar snub (either for Michael B Jordan or the film itself, or the director) was so important - because it was a universal story (a son wanting to step out of the shadow of his father) that happened to be told really well by a black director and a black actor. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat…

And really, the opportunities for diversity that come up when you simply rethink the default are endless, and very important. Rethinking “normal” love stories as non hetero, for example. Or the fact that you could re write nearly any protagonist who is a male as a female with pretty minimal changes. It can be hard for people to rethink the default, when it’s been the case forever and ever, but it can certainly be done, and I think, easier than the Hollywood movie establishment might think. And, I do believe the more we harp on this issue, the sooner it’ll change, so let’s keep harping!