Viola Davis has a lot of things: two Oscar nominations, a couple Tony awards, a giant portrait of her face made out of Swarovski crystals (okay that last one is just a guess, but she could probably have one if she wanted it). The one thing she doesn't have, however, is a leading role in a movie or television show...until now. Davis' leading role in Getting Away with Murder is long overdue for the actress, and she is refreshingly frank about the obstacles that kept her in the limelight in a recent interview with New York Magazine.
Davis clearly has the talent to carry any movie or television show — if her work doesn't speak for itself, then her many awards certainly do. Yet Davis speaks of a career filled with small roles typically playing some version of a stereotype of black women.
"I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish. A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You're going to get your three or four scenes, you're not going to be able to show what you can do. You're going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you're going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That’s the truth."
Davis' roles in movies like Antwone Fisher, Get on Up, Eat Pray Love, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close have practically been the textbook definition of a supporting role. In them, she's always the character standing off to the side, never with a love life or goal of her own, playing the mother, or the best friend, or the counselor, or the cop. But now, Davis finally has a character strong enough to deserve her in Getting Away with Murder: Annalise Keating, the tough, intelligent and stylish law professor. It's all thanks to network television warrior princess Shonda Rhimes, who's been very busy creating meaty roles for women of color with popular shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy. Rhimes, of course, is also a woman of color.
Their success and support of each other is empowering, but also speaks to how far we still have to go in terms of equal representation in media. Both of these women have had to work against the odds to create real, lasting characters who also happen to be women of color. It shouldn't be that hard. An Oscar-nominated actress should not have to wait this long for a leading role. It's clear that there are many women out there like Davis and Rhimes who can create complex characters...so why doesn't Hollywood make more space for them? As Davis said of her role:
“It’s what I’ve had my eye on for so long. It’s time for people to see us, people of color, for what we really are: complicated.”