By Sheryl Estrada
Actress Viola Davis’ acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 25 showed both heartwarming appreciation for her family, and also the bluntness of her character Annalise Keating.
After winning the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for her role as Keating, a law professor in ABC’sHow to Get Away With Murder, she addressed a controversial article on the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, written by New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley.
“I’d like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Bill D’Elia and Peter Nowalk for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me,” Davis said.
In Stanley’s Sept. 18 article, she wrote:
“As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. [Kerry] Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer miniseries Extant.”
The controversy over Stanley’s article actually shined a light on the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
Last year, after Rhimes and producer Beers received a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Diversity Award, Rhimes voiced her opinion.
“We’re a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award,” she stated. “Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”
She added, “We’re also proud that the DGA recognizes a problem and are trying to fix it. The DGA, by the way, is the only guild giving out this type of award in an attempt to draw attention to the problem, which I think is kind of badass.”
In terms of lack of diversity, many were surprised when the 2015 Academy Award nominations were announced earlier this month. The critically acclaimed film Selma was shut out of almost every anticipated category. This year’s Oscars have been referred to as the “whitest” since 1998. For the second time in almost 20 years, the four acting categories did not include a single nominee from an underrepresented group.
At the SAG Awards, Davis also touched on the lack of diversity in the entertainment business through a story she shared about her 4-year-old daughter.
“When I tell my daughter stories at night, inevitably a few things happen,” Davis said. “Number one, I use my imagination. I always start with life, and then I build from there. And then the other thing that happens is, she always says, ‘Mommy, can you put me in the story’ And you know, it starts from the top up.”
Watch Davis’ acceptance speech: