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It’s A Difficult Time To Be A Black Filmmaker w/ An imagination (Or An Open Letter to Viola Davis)

It's A Difficult Time To Be A Black Filmmaker w/ An imagination (Or An Open Letter to Viola Davis)

A repost on the heels of last night’s “conversation with black actresses” feature with Oprah Winfrey on OWN, during which Viola Davis, once again, expressed a general lack of respect for black writers.

I was so excited to see the Viola Davis spread in the LA times. I thought, my goodness, when is the last time I saw a Black ‘star’ take off the wig and go au natural. Loved it! I’m thinking, yes, we are becoming courageous enough to be who we are, not who others want us to be.

Now, before you start thinking I am a ‘go sista’, ‘waving fist in the air’, ‘burn it all down’, black woman, I’m not. I believe that black women can do whatever they want with their hair. But, I do get a little confused by the long weaves and the desire to get as far away as possible from what you were born with. I don’t understand that. I’ve started to see a lot of black women and girls on the streets of NYC with Naomi Campbell style weaves And, I wonder why. What are these women/girls attempting to say about themselves? It’s not judgment, I really want to understand what is going on in their heads. “America’s Next Top Model” and “Sex In The City” have created a culture of womanhood that has everyone trying to look like they stepped off of the runway. Women want to feel beautiful. I got that. Women want to be admired. I got that. But, at what cost to their pocketbooks and mental health?

So, when I saw Ms. Viola show off her natural tresses, it was like a breath of fresh air. Such a beautiful counterpoint to her Maid (Aibileen) imagery. Haven’t seen ‘The Help‘. I won’t. Don’t ask. I know what it is. I know how Hollywood does black history. But, more importantly, it isn’t adding anything to my imagination. It isn’t feeding my brain or offering me a way to re-imagine America. I’ve seen the arguments for and against, but, I just don’t see how it will add anything interesting to my life. I try not to participate in American rituals that don’t enrich me in some way.

And recently, I did give it a shot. Tuned into the Super Bowl for a minute and was just puzzled. So much energy, time and money spent so that a handful of people could make millions of dollars. And, I wondered if most of the people tuning in had health coverage, were meeting their mortgage, had enough food for their children. I can’t watch things that don’t nourish the American imagination. Things that don’t move the country forward or benefit the citizens in some way. So, that’s why I won’t see ‘The Help’. Americans have been given the short end of the stick with respect to black history. This doesn’t serve your average American. And, it keeps us at odds with one another. Until we get the history right, America will continue its downward spiral.

Ms. Viola’s spread in the LA Times did feed my imagination. It did offer me a new way of seeing a Black ‘star’. And, it made me more curious about Ms. Viola. So, I’ve tuned into her interviews, paying careful attention to her fierceness. A friend called and left a message on my answering machine, ‘just saw Viola in a room full of white people, she said, “I always wanted to be somebody.” He hung up. I got it. I get it. It’s generational. Currently, the vanguard of black culture is still healing wounds from their past. Wounds that racism have created, wounds that drive you to gain acceptance in the larger culture. The acknowledgment comes in the form of a paycheck, exposure, star status, acceptance. An acceptance that is more important than our legacy. Isn’t it that simple? How else could a black woman read an inaccurate portrayal of a black maid, one of the most heroic crosses black women have had to bear in America, and take the role?

As stated, I have been watching Ms. Viola’s interviews. I want to know the answer. I want to know what she wrestled with, the questions, the doubts. I, unlike many, was disheartened when I saw ‘Doubt‘. I just couldn’t embrace the character, didn’t believe it. Didn’t know when I had seen a white actress look so weathered down and had sh** dripping down her face. I was like, really, did we need all of that? What is that? Did we really need to get that far into breaking down the image of this black woman. But, I guess Ms. Viola thinks that ‘dignifying’ downtrodden black women is her calling. If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have moved forward in America. Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep perpetuating falsehoods. The days of, “well, there is nothing else I could do” are over. They are over. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

During her Oscar press junket, Ms. Viola keeps bringing up Black filmmakers and writers as if our piss poor skills made her choose the Maid role. I beg her pardon. I don’t remember seeing Ms. Viola in any black independent films. She says because she is only offered “urban crack addicted mothers.” By whom? Has she ever heard of the NYU Graduate film program? Certainly, she must have. There are Black folks coming out of that school with screenplays that offer complex, interesting characters and lifestyles. How is it that she can only access screenplays about crack addicted black mothers when there are filmmakers who couldn’t write about a crack addicted mother if they tried?

So, in her diatribe, she’s placing the responsibility of having to choose the black Maid role at our feet? How in the hell did that happen? And, don’t get me wrong, it’s not about being a black maid. Hell, the Black Maid, one day, will be deemed a heroine of black american culture. These women bore scars that none of us will ever know. We lift them up. So cease with the argument that we don’t want to see Black maids; that isn’t it; it’s about the falsification of our history, and how one makes a choice as a black person to participate in it.

Just say you want the paycheck and the exposure. We can live with that. But, don’t throw black filmmakers and screenwriters under the damn bus. We are out here struggling, fighting, facing rejection, dealing with false starts, having doors closed in our faces because we are trying to bring a truth and a humanity to the film world. Do you know how hard that is, Ms. Viola? I think you do. I think you know the struggle to be a black artist with imagination, with so much beauty and fire you want to bring to the arena and can’t, so, your insides burn. I know you know it. I heard about your performance in ‘Intimate Apparel‘. I saw your spread in the LA Times. I know what your imagination must have suffered as a child. I know your path. I share your story. So why is there a bridge that does not allow us to meet and share our story?

Let’s think about that. There are so many black women filmmakers and screenwriters that would die to sculpt something for your beauty; that would offer you a sandbox to play in and put your range on full display. And we couldn’t write about a crack addicted mother if we tried.

But, are you, like Michelle Williams, willing to work with an independent black filmmaker? An unknown who is a free thinker and has a grand imagination? Are you willing to trust an unknown black filmmaker with your image? Is Will Smith? Is Denzel Washington? Is Morgan Freeman? Is Sam Jackson? Well, he definitely has with ‘Eve’s Bayou‘. We will not be able to change black representation in Hollywood until the ‘names’ start taking chances with the free thinkers, with the folks who color outside of the lines. Understand, this is how new voices enter the arena. Martin Scorsese lead with his point of view, Oliver Stone lead with his point of view, Jane Campion, the same. The mavericks start outside of the mainstream and then, if they choose to, become the mainstream. That’s how it’s done. But, who is willing to take the chance with the auteur black woman filmmaker?

Black folks have the capital and the talent but, for some reason, people don’t trust black women filmmakers to tell our stories. Yes, we can call it racism with white folks but what do we call it when it’s our own? Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry can’t just swoop something up after it’s won Sundance. There is so much talent that will never see at Sundance. This is not rocket science, it is about giving people an opportunity. And, yes, I blame the aforementioned. I blame those who champion Zora Neal Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry, now, when they are dead. If they were alive during these times and were filmmakers, you would not hear them. They would not be able to access you in your Black tower.

They were the creatives, the truth tellers, the free thinkers of their time. And the free thinkers, those with creativity and imagination in our time, get marginalized. And then we’re told we aren’t’ doing enough or we need to stop complaining, or, or, or…. You have the power, we don’t. But, we won’t stop. We will break through and you know what, we are as displeased with you as we are with “the whites“. And we will be talking about you when we tell our stories.

America needs a strong infusion of truth and imagination, it’s the only thing that is going to move us forward.

Black america has to stop being paralyzed over what they think “white america” will do or what “white america” wants.

It’s time to put courage at the center of our Art, not excuses.

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

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Comments

JBtheDREAMER

Ever wonder what it would be like "To Be A Black Filmmaker" without an imagination?

Rai

I disagree with pulling down Viola Davis in this article. I also don't understand the new trend of people judging films without seeing them. That said, I think this article speaks many, many truths. Of course the Black Maid is an American heroine, but I believe has yet to be portrayed in that light, instead being cast repeatedly as the victim. The thought that black filmmakers lack imagination, or only produce one type of work is incorrect and inside-out thinking. The numbers are not adding up here. I think, as stated above, that first of all, black filmmakers need to begin to be even more courageous in their work, creating masterpieces regardless of trying to breakthrough to a mainstream audience, because that is where great films get made. Second of all, those who have the power to contribute and to get these films made and seen need to step up and start doing their part in giving back and advancing the quality of the films America is being exposed to, especially those that portray people of color.

Taxxi

The highly acclaimed Ms V. knows the Hollyweird game and she should've keep the hat on until she snatch that prize then she could have rip it off trophy in hand!
That's great advice to ''use your courage'' and make sure your bank account is stacked with big bucks to finance ''your'' art.

Yup

Ps- How does one know for certain that "The Help" was an inaccurate portrayal of a Black maid if one hasn't seen it?

Yup

Why are the stories of maids and "downtrodden Black women" somehow considered less worthy of being told than upwardly mobile Black women? Yeah, I get the argument that this narrative is completely overdone in American cinema to the point of noxious stereotype, but I also detect a classist bias lurking beneath this sentiment. These women deserve nuanced reflections of themselves onscreen as much as anyone else does.

...

Haven't gotten through all the comments yet, but so far, it seems that Sunboy, Joyce Shera, J. Blakemore & Bondgirl completely missed the point.

...

Amen Tanya Steele … Amen, Amen & Amen.

Sunboy

Such an unfortunate, poorly researched composition. This is sophisticated hate mail. Firstly, in attempting to edify or heal things within the race, the tearing down of other members of the race will ALWAYS be counterproductive and will NEVER accomplish anything positive. And that's when there IS a legitimate concern/argument. There is none here. My beautiful Black people, please hear this: Always DO. YOUR. RESEARCH!!! I don't know why we always feel it's okay to make declamatory statements without ever validating our claims. As a writer who wants to be taken seriously by the world, it is imperative. This letter was clearly written by a disgruntled writer who is taking out her frustration on a Black actress who has worked and fought incredibly hard to get where she is, and is still fighting. Ms. Davis has a production company that employs Black actors, writers, and directors. More than merely writing a letter, she has put her money where her mouth is, and invested in the careers of Black artists with the money she made from the movies you degrade (and did not watch?). That is action. That is admirable, and we should all appreciate that because a lot of Black actors/artists don't do that.

I could go on all day, but it would only bring dignity to this hate mail. Tanya, in keeping with my first statement, I do not wish to tear you down. You is kind. You is smart. You is important. BUT you just used Ms. Davis' name to gain a significant amount of (unearned) attention. Now people know who you are because of her. You should thank her. I pray you get your break, and all your projects come into fruition; that that takes some of the edge off, and you can actually be secure enough to uplift your colleagues. And please know, publicizing STRONG opinions about something you've never seen, discredits anything you say thereafter. Even if you didn't watch it, not admitting it would have been a much wiser choice. It makes it look even more like jealousy and spite.

Joyce Sherrí

The writer makes a few decent points, but she sounds a little bitter as well. Its almost as if the weight of responsibility is left on Viola's shoulders to be all "power to the people" and be "The Help" for other Black folks trying to make a name for themselves (mind the pun, haha) I guess I can't be 100% because I hate being put in a box…I don't want to be a Black Filmmaker I want to be a Filmmaker who happens to have Black people as her main characters one time or another…I want to tell good stories and my films and projects are not always going to be about the plight of Black people. Yes we need more roles for Black people that are more than just the "urban crack addicted mothers" but we can't assume that because our Black celebrities have a little change in their pockets they are responsible for coming to look for US…Notice the article says Viola is only "offered" these roles by other Black filmmakers…maybe we should start offering our work and stop waiting to have things handed over to us, because lets face it we are so awesome right? ;-)

Donella

I would like to mention that Denzel Washington has been directed by Blacks several times–Spike Lee, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, The Hughes Brothers–and has gone back to be directed again by Lee and Franklin. Washington has also served as director for Black-themed projects. Samuel L. Jackson has been directed by Spike Lee, Kevin Hooks, Ernest Dickerson, The Hughes Brothers, Reginald Hudlin, Kasi Lemmons, John Singleton, Giancarlo Esposito, Malcolm D. Lee–and gone back to several, like Lee and Lemmons, for repeat opportunities. Oprah Winfrey has been directed by Lee Daniels. She has hired Black directors for television–Charles Burnett, Darnell Martin, Denzel Washington, Lee Daniels. The two that fall far short on your list in comparison are Will Smith and Morgan Freeman, although Smith did hire Gina Price-Bythewood for The Secret Life of Bees. I believe Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons, Debbie Allen, and Ava DuVernay should definitely be directing more than they are now. They've turned in excellent work, have shown dedication to the craft, and are reliable.

belmont1929

damn! preach! No need for shame because you hit a good number of valid and well-documented points.

blah, blah

If Viola Davis thinks The Help is quality material than she is more full of -ish than I had already pegged her. #NotaFan #Overrated

PREACH

There is plenty of truth in this blog. You tell it, sister.

Val

Brava!

J. Blakemore

Wow. A lot of assumptions made in this article. Assumptions that show, frankly, more anger than willingness to research even slightly. Ms Davis DOES own a production company that has already produced a film with mostly Black actors (not herself because- among other things- the company has a mission statement of expanding opportunities, not increasing her own) and focused on Black people in the military.

I wouldn't figure a person who wrote off "The Help" without even WATCHING it would take the time to research beyond her assumptions. Had you taken the time to watch that movie, you MIGHT have thought it was a standard Hollywood portrayal where the White woman saves the po' Black folks or you MIGHT have seen the end (where a main character tells the White woman she can't "save" them, they will be doing that themselves). The point is you didn't bother to find out. That isn't a far cry from prejudice itself, is it?

And the idea that the only way for Blacks to get decent and fair portrayals in Hollywood is to make the films themselves is CHARMING in the fact that it hearkens back to a big part of Black history: the age of "separate, but equal". Do you not see the irony in your own words?

I've spoken to Ms Davis on a LOT of occasions. I would say we used to be friends and now are merely acquaintances. The things she has said to me are usually reflected in her interviews: she doesn't want Hollywood to quit making stories that have Blacks in a bad light; she just wants them to make MORE that don't. The answer that people like you seem to have is for HER to rebuild Hollywood because she has money, then YOU can step in without the discomfort of standing beside her to try to change the system as a whole.

I repeat by the way, that you could have found out she was producing by just going to IMDb. Yet you didn't. You instead opted to attack her as "not doing enough" for YOU; for not making Hollywood over with what is (in production terms) VERY limited funds.

I'm saddened by this article. And I'm saddened by those who would say that this woman "tossed Blacks under the bus(?!)" by having the TEMERITY to speak out about the limited opportunity offered to anyone in this town.

Shame on you. Shame.

Daryl

Finally somebody calls out these black celebs who keep throwing black people under the bus but don't want to invest in black people then turn around and beg white people for opportunities when they can do it themselves. Great article Tanya Steele.

JOHNNIE "BLUE" GARDNER

Ms. Tanya, my dear I'm afraid most A A'S will just never get it! BRAINWASH is nearly impossible to eradicate or eliminate from the mind! Your focus on History is right on. It is the basis of the BRAINWASH. My dearly departed Grandmother told me nearly 71 years ago, "son one lie leads to another!" Whites lied about the beginnings of this country and everything since has been lies! when a slave aspires to be just like Master, for those who don't know, that's BRAINWASH! Years ago I read a book entitled "Voices From Slavery," in it, were testimonies from slaves who thought that, their enslavement was justified because, whites were smarter, and Negroes needed to learn from whites. They didn't know any better, BRAINWASHED! Most don't even know who they are! Colored, Black, African American, or Negro? I'm an African Negro!! Who is an American, what is an American? "It Is Easier To Believe Than It Is To Think!" "A Peope Can't Know What They Want or Where They Want To Go If They Don't Know Who They Are And Where They Come From!" "A People Will Never Look Forward To
Posterity Who Never Look Backward To Their Ancestors!" I don't believe African Americans want Freedom they just want to be free to Kiss the White Man's Ass! They got that! I haven't heard talk of Freedom since Malcolm, Doc, and Stokely were Murdered! Is it possible for me to contact Ms. Tanya Steele? I've got The Script, that She, I and many others are looking for!!!

Mookie

Oh Lord. You didn't see the Help so how do you have an opinboutsbout her work in this film? And re: Doubt. Snot Happens. Get over it. Lay down your grudge and just keep writing. It's hard sometimes but you must resist the urge to tear others down.

michele brown

Wow. While i appreciate your insight, your frustration is what overshadows it. The reality of the industry is that armchair quarterbacking will not make change. It is only those who garner success who can. Tyler Perry was in drag a long time before there was Tyler Perry Studios…so Viola Davis may be a maid now at the Oscars, but maybe next time it will be your film she's Executive Producing and you two will go together to the awards. My point is simply it takes time and courage to position yourself in this industry and bad mouthing each other publicly on the heels of such a huge success does not seem wise. BTW. i know for a fact that Viola Davis IS looking for good material from black filmmakers and writers…maybe if you stop bashing and start blessing, that kind of opportunity can come your way. I feel your fire Sis and wish you well

Ressurrection Graves

She looks gorgeous! I guess I'll have to be the one to say it, she looks 20 or 30 years younger. I always thoughts she was an older woman. I love the natural and she has never looked more beautiful!

rochelle

damn, lilly…really? not good enough.

rochelle robinson

yes!

CareyCarey

"WHERE YOU BEEN CAREY?"~ Cynthia. I've been trying to get in this dang door! Anyway, I believe I have your e-mail address? If not, the following is mine. re: "pictures". A few other folks on this board have seen them (can't call them out because they would pimp slap me :-)).

I believe you will receive a few laughs. talk to you soon. careydarnell@yahoo.com

CareyCarey

Dang! Whatsup with this "protection" "device" on this board. I cannot post a comment without a *SPAM* pop-up closing the door. Anyway, this post and the comments have me knocking at the door. So, as Marvin Gaye said, what's going on? Y'all know I hav some hands to raise up in this thread.

CareyCarey

TESTING

Lilly

I also have a serious problem with the way Hollywood depicts black culture, however, in this particular case, I think you're reading too much into things.

Firstly, Viola Davis has played a powerful black woman in several of the movies she has been in, such as Law Abiding Citizen. However, she cannot always play the powerful strong black woman- if she did she would would be typecast which would significantly limit her range.

Secondly, white women also play the downcast, downtrodden Charlize Theren played the downtrodden, drug addicted prostitue in Monster and won an oscar for it.

Lilly

d

anon

ive got two wprds for ya NOLLY-WOOD the 3rd biggest film insusety in the world and aa are not getting in on it what is wrong with you people? apparently they have reached out to numerous actors writers and directors and have gooten the cold shoulder (surprise surprise) i guess nigera is not as glamerous as the hollywood red carpet eh?
a british production company has just had investment from NOLLYWOOD to make a film with than thandie newton so they oviously think that that there is something to gain from nollywood but blacks dont. It amazes me how aa's moan and complain so much about the state of black cinema when everyone else goes abroad to find work if they cant get it in their country. idris elba and naomi harris arent getting masses of work in uk but they are in demand else where plus recently sophie okonoado went to austrilia for work in tv SHOCK HORROR and her role was ubelievebly NUANCED multifaceted i was so proud that she as a estalished film actress she was prepared to swallow her pride and do a little austrilian tv series which was actually REALLY good are amwercian actors prepared to do that? america is not the be all and end all there are opportunities globally if you really want it.

Rose

Thank you for your article. It is difficult to see women of color taking roles that are simply designed to pacify and appease white liberal audiences, in order to relieve them of their horrible burden of guilt. God forbid! The unfortunate reality is that dark skinned black women, in particular, are still only considered for certain roles. I can't blame ambitious and talented actresses for taking roles that would give them more exposure and larger financial rewards. But I have not seen, "The Help", nor do I intend to.

greg starnes

Hey, Tambay! I heard what happened at the Pan-African Film Festival when David Oyelowo confronted you before the screening for "The Undershepherd" about the recent "Why Red Tails Failed to Soar" article, Vanessa Martinez's articles, and other Shadow and Act articles! Heard he really lit into you and made you 30 minutes late for the screening! One thing you have to learn in life… If you write about it, you have to be able to back it up if you're called to the carpet on it.

greg starnes

Hey, Tambay! I heard what happened at the Pan-African Film Festival when David Oyelowo confronted you before the screening for "The Undershepherd" about the recent "Why Red Tails Failed to Soar" article, Vanessa Martinez's articles, and other Shadow and Act articles! Heard he really lit into you and made you 30 minutes late for the screening! One thing you have to learn in life… If you write about it, you have to be able to back it up if you're called to the carpet on it.

Bruce Mitchell

Thank you, it is great to read a Sister express this. I feel better, and hopeful.

Renina

Thank you Ms.Steele for writing this.

You kicked the hornets nest, but #blackgirlsarefromethefuture.

Movies set agendas and they tell us what is important.

The history of film in the US is in many ways the history of race and gender and access to capital, so when a historically Brown or Black body receives accolades from White establishments for playing a role, it is reasonable to assume that the basis of those accolades will be interrogated by Black people.

As a Black woman, and a scholar, I believe that the forces that constrain the decisions that Black women artists make are ripe for interrogation because, in many ways, they reflect the forces that constrain the decisions that many Black women make; especially if they are working class or low income. These forces are relationships to family, accesses to a living wage and stable income, access to health care.

Just two weeks ago I wrote "Why Black Women Film Directors" on my blog as I reflected on my ideas on the political significance of both Pariah and Red Tails.

The ability to control how a person is represented is in many ways the ability to control a group of people.

As Black creatives we all make choices and in the Tavis Smiley interview Ms. Davis is pushed by Smiley to discuss how did she go about deciding to take that role. Conversations like that are illuminating because they show us the process behind the decision for a Julliard trained, gorgeous, talented Black woman to take a maid role in the twenty first century, when the history of film in this country relegated Black women to maid roles, and when Black women were economically confined to working primarily as maids until the late 1970's.

Good conversation.

Monique

Welcome to S&A Tayna, glad to have you!!!!

Janey

I liked your article. I thought it was definitely on point. I have also wondered the same thing about Viola Davis myself. Why WOULD she take such a role? I am also a bit taken a back by how completely nasty and toxic some of the comments are below. Are these people off their rockers? I hope these folks aren't representative of our Black filmmakers . . . :(

ms.stone

Well said.

H Rollins

This whole essay is puny; maybe even evil.  It reminds me of the self-hating character Sergeant Waters from "A Soldier's Story" crashing around in the dark screaming, "They'll still hate you!!"

alex anthony

This was a scatterbrained article with little cogency and a meandering narrative. It's tough to respond because there are so many points that need addressing.

-Your attempt to redress Viola because she isn't down at Tisch doing student films is absurd. Stop it.

-Freedom for black people means freedom to do anything, even things you disagree with. So for better or worse, black women with hair extensions and implants and all other trappings of modern aesthetics have the right to do so, even if it disagrees with your political sentiments. *That's* what freedom is.

-Re: Viola and black filmmakers and screenwriters… the problem is complex. You have many talented filmmakers and writers – all working disparately. The natural problem with young filmmakers is capital, but the natural advantage of young filmmakers is sweat equity and sheer numbers. Having many filmmakers languish without access to capital and without the platform for organization is a serious problem that needs addressing.

-Re: swooping something up after Sundance, etc., that's a defensible strategy, because it mitigates risk for the purchaser that the film is perceived as respectable. What you're suggesting is another way of finding talented filmmakers – and that's a conversation in and of itself. The truth is that there are a lot of mediocre/poor/redundant filmmakers out there as well.

LeonRaymond

And with all that being said -please come out and watch a film done by Producers I have and continue to work with, as I mentioned , I am a Black film maker who works in the Latino film industry and this project is one of many but check it out please and lets work together to make films right now!!!!

http://www.musicalchairsthefilm.com

Nicole

WOW!!! We have discussed this topic to death. But when all is said and done, I have only one question…what changes? What will we DO? What will be different ten years from now? Will we be having this same conversation when another version of 'The Help' comes out 10 or 20 years from now?

Until we(black filmmakers, actors/actresses, audiences) DO something different, this is all talk.

BONDGIRL

This op-ed piece is so full of shit. You're going to write a sister-to-sister letter to someone, and start it off criticizing their hair? What kind of self-indulgent, superficial garbage is that? You say, "Actors, Actresses, Directors and Writers have to make the decision to commit to the truth of our legacy or keep perpetuating falsehoods." Ohhh, I get it now. You would like to control the TRUTH of black people and their legacy, as YOU see it. According to people such as yourself, you are the judge and jury on what stories of our community gets told, right? The self-proclaimed celluloid historian? If black people aren't raped and beaten in a revisionist film, it's whitewashing. Then when the violence is raw and uncut a la Django Unchained, it's exploitative and racist. Dammit, which is it that you'd like? The comments about her taking the role for pay are a given…what actor takes a Dreamworks project for scale? What planet are you transmitting your work from, because you're not on Earth. Next, you bring up the black screenwriters of NYU. I'm an NYU alum, and I've received garbage from MFA screenwriters. Just like Julliard, there're some good and rotten apples in the bunch. Outside of that, has any of them reached out to Viola? I'm not talking about a phone call or email to her agent's assistant 6 months ago. She is a 2-time Oscar nominee…why is it incumbent upon her to reach out to anyone? Shouldn't they beat a path to her door? I know what you're going to say….they've tried and failed, blah blah blah. BULLSHIT!!! Here's why: Viola Davis is not Michelle Obama, okay? She doesn't have armed guards who'll break your jaw in two places. She's just a celebrity, meaning if the FREAKING PAPARAZZI know her every move, a black screenwriter looking to get a script to her should too. I don't buy the "Viola's unreachable" tear-jerker/victim excuse…that talk is for losers with no imagination and even lesser inventive screenplay. If I had a perfectly written script for her type, I wouldn't take no for an answer. She is a person…she goes to her favorite restaurants, her favorite hair dressers, her favorite coffee shop, her favorite manicurist, etc. Find those places and you find Viola. In LA it's even easier because there's 3 degrees of separation between you and a lot of actors. Hell, it took me less than 5 minutes to find out she's in NYC for Fashion Week now…any so-called creative screenwriter should be sitting in front of her hotel with a copy of their script waiting outside since 5 am….same thing the white writer does who you resent. He eats ramen noodles for 2 yrs churning out his magnum opus, then makes his move on a name actor. This is exactly why black people aren't geting shit done…if you can't even figure out how to reach someone- a person that CRAZY ass stalkers can, you should get out of the business TODAY. Your mind is weak. Halle Berry's stalker is on every website figuring out how to get back in her house, and folks are bitching about Viola's agent not returning an email?? Wah, wah, wah. A white screenwriter left the script for Rain Man on Dustin Hoffman's front door….he read it, and the rest is history. Get your damn mind right people. Filmmakers, you are part of the problem!

tski loverton

Interesting. As a Black male I have always strongly preferred natural hair on sistas since teenage years (and after much soul and otherwise-searching married a "natchel" blkwoman). To me the real question is, will Viola Davis, now that Hollywood is feeling her a lil' bit and she's got Charlize in her corner:), ever perform a film WITH her natural hair… Lord knows she looks much better au naturel, than with those awful, obvious wigs, but the powers that be and Black Filmakers don't seem to get it. Afro-ed, dreaded, natural-haired sistas are all over TV commercials but have yet to crossover to celluloid… why?

kiki

I don't believe she intended to "throw black filmmakers under the bus". However, I think that she has a valid gripe when it comes to how someone with her look continues to be cast. Black filmmakers can be as bad or WORSE than non-blacks when it comes to COLORISM and pigeonholing actresses into stereotypical castes. Darker women RARELY play leading roles. They are typically the sassy sidekick, ghetto ho or jealous bitch foil to the light-skinned leading lady.

Let's keep it honest.

a reader

"Just say you want the paycheck and the exposure."

^THIS^. I respect Viola Davis' talent. She's a superb actress. But I think her decision to take on The Help and Doubt boiled down to a paycheck and exposure. I think she herself said she struggled mightily before agreeing to the Help. She herself acknowledged that reason she struggled was because she knew the character would come across as one-dimensional. SO. I asks you: what tilted her over the edge when she KNEW what type of story and character would be put on the big screen. My guess: "the paycheck and the exposure."

misha

Ms. Steele, what else is there to say but…Brava! Brava, Ms. Steele!

LeonRaymond

@Jug and Mark I hear you both and thanks for sure, take my word for it I am not bitter at all, I have moved on to working with in deeply with the Latino film community and there stuff gets produced, there is a sense of camaraderie, and the scripts I use to send to Black actors of name, I don't even bother any more, I send them to a Latino actor or actress and get a response and working relationship develops, my current project has three producers that have major project coming out in March theatrically that was geared for the Latino audience , one my actors has been in three major films. I find a real joy working in the Latino film community, there is a huge support system and many who jump on board to help with your project. I don't look back to working in the Black film industry and you never get a question as to if the project is a stereotype or not what you get is , questions of is it SAG or Non SAG and how much rehearsal time. I would beckon any Black filmmaker to jump on that side of the industry and there are a huge amount of Latino women filmmakers. but I see you and Mark have the right head on your shoulders and sound to be real industry folk who know the ropes and understand the real world with out the Sugar sweet depictions of how people think the industry is. Watch out for a super Latino actress La Caridad De La Luz – aka Labruja ( Down to the Bone, Gun Hill Road, Bamboozled ) she is one our core actresses and she will be huge!!!!

Nadine

..PREAACH!

C. R. S.

Great article Tanya!!!! The backlash is a compliment to your courage. Lord knows, no one has it anymore. People try to say that what Viola said about black filmmakers was taken out of context. NO IT WASN'T. It was plain and clear. Stand your ground!

urbanauteur

@Tanya, your essay is slammin like a bar-b-qued manifesto, good stuff!..;-)

get these nets

Has anybody taken a deep breath and thought about exactly what she said?

I think she's getting scripts for those master p type films that have the super low budgets.

Those "hood films" get cranked out consistently and are generally based on some crime figure trying to change his life. After Viola played the grandmother in Get Rich or Die Trying, she got on the radar of every producer of these types of films and I'm certain that they are the ones sending her scripts to play the mother/grandmother of the "hustler" in these films.

The brother Clifton Powell gets sent scripts to the same films…..and 99% of the time he is cast as the godfather/boss because of his screen presence.

lil nut

let's seismic shift this shit! every nigga writing a decalogue styled diatribe of their opinion need to close the web browser, open final draft and craft a game changer. too much shit talking, too little warrior walking. erybody shut the f*ck up and let's get it! btw, nice kudos for intelligently articulating your say, tanya steele.

Boogieboa

Black people are so damn moody sometimes. Two beautiful women get roles in a Hollywood film. They act their parts so well that they're nominated for Oscars against all odds. Large numbers of folks are criticising them because these two African American actresses played maids in The Help. Why? I don't get it. Go out and make films for them to star in or shut-the-hell up. What's complicated about that? I tell you one thing for nothing, I'd rather play a maid in The Help than to star as Precious. Now, there's a stereotype, if ever I saw one.

Mark

I just do not like this attack on Viola Davis. None of the success she's acquired of late came to her overnight. And to the poster who suggested that the world doesn't need another artist if they are only doing it for money, well, that sounds perfect in theory, but the reality is that money and taking care of oneself is a factor. But here's a question: It is worse or more stereotypical for Octavia Spencer (who played Minny in the film and is also getting her big break after years of toiling in brief, supporting parts) to play the maid in "The Help" or to play the daffy medium in "Dinner With Schmucks"? Is it worse for Halle Berry to play a crackhead in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" than to play a working class mother who uses sex with a white racist prison guard to assuage her grief in Marc Forster's "Monster's Ball"? Is it worse for Viola Davis to play the drug counselor in Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" or to play the put-upon mother in John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt"? Did Angela Bassett help the "cause" any by appearing as a put-upon mother encouraging her son to pursue his athletic dreams with that bumbling Mr. Brown in "Meet the Browns"? I guess we can find something wrong with the depictions of black people by filmmakers of all races. The problem we are facing here is much larger than anything Ms. Steele is quoting or misquoting Viola Davis as having said and it is certainly much bigger than Ms. Davis or Ms. Spencer's roles in "The Help". Spike Lee was attacked for making the same comments about Tyler Perry's films, but because the community at large LOVES those films so much, there isn't much argument about stereotypes and setting the black community back, particularly in this age of Obama. I don't care that Viola Davis might possibly win the Oscar for playing Aibileen. I am just glad that finally someone recognizes what most of us here posting on this site have known for years: that she is a spectacular and erudite actress who loves the craft of acting and deserves to thrust into the consciousness of the movie going public for that love, for the way she projects that love and for the beauty that radiates within her. That's my (by now) ten cents!

Charles

Somebody add Tanya Steele to the Frustrated Black Filmmakers list. This article is ridiculous.

A.J. Muhammad

Tanya, I wish that Viola can have a real conversation with black filmmakers where she can clarify her statement that all she's offered are crack mamas. It sounds like a sound bite with out shading or details and that's probably what the writer wanted: to be sensational. There are Black actors who do give Black indie filmmakers a chance: Ava Duvernay has worked with seasoned Black actors on both of her features. Qasim Basir, Salim Akil, Gina Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons can only get their low budget-by-Hollywood-standard movies made if they have well known Black actors in the lead. And Tanya, it's ironic that you mentioned that you didn't know when was the last time you seen a white women look so weathered down because just a few years ago there was a spoof on the Oscars about how Charlize Theron always "hags" it up for her Oscar nominated movies (Monster, North County etc) as opposed to Keira Knightly who has the courage to always look "beautiful" in her movies. Surely, you've seen actresses like Halle Berry (Jungle Fever, Isaiah etc), Tilda Swinton, Emma Thompson, The Redgraves, etc. appear un-glam as a role calls for and even on Broadway Cynthia Nixon has had to shave her head and be nude for her role in Wit…

I know that there are indie filmmakers (black, white, or whichever ethnicity they may be) who Viola will work with on the right project. As a good friend of mine says, there are too many actors and not enough parts to go around because let's not even talk about the actors who came before Viola who can't even get arrested by anybody and I can think of dozens of Black women actress who are Viola's contemporaries/peers who have been MIA for a long time.

There is a danger of you holding people to playing in films that falsify history because that's what filmmaking is–changing things to tell a story/get a point across/altering the truth as fits an artists vision/expecting the audience to suspend their disbelief even when we know it's fantasy… Who in their right mind thought The Help was a documentary!

And you said nothing of internalize racism–even among the new spate of Black filmmakers, playwrights and other artists which may be the reason why somebody only sees an actor in a certain way… Maybe that's overstating the obvious…
Let's hope that Viola does choose a film directed by an NYU Black Grad film alum… Calling Seith Mann, Tanya Steele, Stacey Holman, Rod Gailes, Dee Rees, Rashad Green, Booker Mattison, James Richards, Nikyata Jusu…

Deana

"Black folks have the capital and the talent but, for some reason, people don't trust black women filmmakers to tell our stories."

Perhaps there is a lack of trust in our community that goes beyond "the industry." I know that if someone wrote such judgmental things about me over something so trivial as a movie role, I would not trust them as a work colleague either.

The fact is, there is a LOT of garbage out there in terms of scripts and this makes it all the more difficult for quality work to get in front of those who have the power to green-light a film. On that note, if it takes Lucas (and he is 'White Rich') 20 years to get a film with a predominantly Black cast made, then how do you expect Viola Davis to get a film made just because she is in it? Perhaps, this role in The Help could put Ms. Davis in a better position to make that happen. Did you ever think of that?
I saw The Help, in a theatre full of White Folks who were outwardly sobbing. This film may not have been important to you but it is important in that it placed a mirror up to American audiences and forced many to confront prejudices harbored by both Blacks and Whites. The first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem, right?

The bottom line, the Black film industry will continue to suffer if we have the attitude that we have to tear each other down when we don't agree with someones choice of roles, career direction, etc. You don't see other cultures doing that!

If you have a great script, hire some amazing unknown actors, find a talented and hungry crew and shoot it yourself!

Deborahsue Filmmaker

Thank you for taking the time to write this article, it is always great to find talks that touches on filmmaking, and where African American filmmakers are. I consider myself an all around talent in front of the camera as well as behind it. I am still learning my craft and plan to produce my own vehicles to showcase. Regardless to what others do or do not do, I am in this for the long haul, regardless to the stars I may or may not work with.

I create stories that are fun, crazy, out of the world and man just things that I always wanted to do while growing up. I love writing, creating, falling in love, and out of love. I love action movies so I ave some of them.
Then I have my musicals, horror, shorts, music videos. But all are for minority casting.
For now I am in a area where there are very few African Americans that want to act.
I would love to work with any one at this time, anything to get my story to life, put some legs on it.
Again I love the article and glad it is open for chat.

james

I have to admit the crack head script thing from Viola Davis threw me off and I grew up around crackheads. But that was a long time ago. So I pondered those must be black film makers caught in a time warp or she is perhaps exaggerating how bad finding a good script is. I listen to white film podcast some of these guys and women were readers and they confess to having to had read some awful scripts. I bet most of them riddled with typical mainstream white stereotypes.

I suppose perhaps thats what Ms Davis meant in some way but it sure did sting when she said it. Yet she was so descriptive its like she was dying to express the statement.

As for she has to get paid, hey so do mob bookies but I cant shed a tear when they dont.
I always remind myself when as artist we make certain choices we cant hide behind getting paid.

Truth is the world doesnt need another artist if all they care about is getting paid.

Troy

Well, the one thing I love about being an artist is you can create whatever the hell you want to; i.e your body of work.

LeonRaymond

@JUG AND MARK

I think it's about serious access and this ongoing clique shit that is killing us all, I have a super producer working with me, we had seriously awesome project set and sent it to Viola way before DOUBT way before THE HELP, my producer had Kim Bassinger and Susan Sarrandon on speed dial and we wanted Viola to play a serious role that would not be a crack head or any disrespectful role , she would have had the role of playing a woman watching over a young girl caught up in gang life and taking a road trip to return that young girl to her family. We sent every method possible to get her , she never responded , in part cause she never heard of the producer or myself even though there was funding ready. and then I hear these statements and to me it's a slap in the face. I don't at all deal in Black Hollywood anymore as I work with and in the Latino film community cause they stick together and know what working together means , but damn hey I have a ton of super talented well connected writers who work with me, I am sorry there is no excuse , if she wants screenplays that are strong and highly imaginative it is far too easy to get access to them and us as a group. I know a writer who is Black who has some of the most awesome stuff I have read but he has grown so tired of the Black clique. he wrote a powerful story of a female undercover cop who became such a monster her own family had to hire some one to protect them against her. And the person he wanted to play that role was none other than you guessed it Viola Davis , what was the response he got, sorry she does not take screenplays from people she does not know or unsolicited screenplays. so we had our agent contact her people and still no response. They the producers has moved on and they were shocked to hear that statement that some of the stuff she gets are worse than what white writers send her. I am floored but not surprised, you see the Help does not bother me for jack what does is okay what are you going to do next we can take you to the next level but the Black clique is supreme. you can get to Queen Latifah with scripts her door is wide open, there are many others who are ready. so don't go on TV and say she is not getting quality projects cause I am 1 of thousands that I know of !!!!

Patricia

"If Ms. Viola gets to play anyone close to Viola Davis, we will have moved forward in America." #TRUTH. This was a brilliantly-written and incisive piece.

SonOfBaldwin

Ms. Steele,

I don't care what anyone else says, this piece you wrote is MAGNIFICENT. It's so truthful as to be sublime.

White supremacist apologists will, of course, disagree.

Sheryl

Oh boo frickin' hoo. Stop whining and start WRITING! Write something so great that you'll make stars out of nobodies – you won't even NEED the services of already-established stars! In fact, make them come to YOU! Write something so great and compelling that your name will become revered and celebrated in your own lifetime! But most of all, LEARN TO WRITE! That includes perfecting your spelling and grammar – even on an obscure blog, it counts. If you're going to dismiss – out of hand – something you've never even seen, why are you then so surprised someone does the same with YOUR work? To call a portrayal – again, one that you've never seen – "inaccurate" is to have never known women like Hazel B. Mitchell (my Grandmother), who WAS one of those women…one of those maids who seem to embarrass you so much. I really hope you reach your lofty aspirations, Ms. Steele. I really do. But PLEASE stop whining about the work of others. It's not enriching your life in any way.

Mark

I knew this was going to happen. I knew Viola Davis was going to have this moment ruined for her by taking a role that she felt she could bring something to. She is being punished for the narrowness of others. I loved her performance in "The Help" and can look beyond all the complaints about this film because I know that it's fiction and not calling itself history. Further, where were all these complaints when the novel was resting week after week on the bestsellers' list? It becomes visual and then it becomes a problem.

If Ms. Davis didn't take this part, someone was going to. This movie was going to be made with her or without her. She is a working actress who just recently paid off her student loans (as she recently revealed) which means she has bills. This means she has to work. I don't find "The Help" any more offensive than some of these broad comedies featuring African American actors that we never complain about because the characters happen to be lawyers, businessmen or doctors…in these movies they are such in name only. It's one dimensional window dressing. We pick and choose what we want to call out and frankly, "The Help" is an easy damn target.

Finally, Viola said 99% of the scripts SHE receives from black filmmakers feature crack mamas and the like. She didn't say 99% of the scripts by black filmmakers feature crack mamas. You must remember that Viola Davis is just now getting to a stature where people would offer her something different. Many weren't aware of who she was before "Doubt" (which is really a cheap shot on the author's part to focus on here) let alone her prodigious talent.

What do you want from this woman? What do you want her to do? It's obvious you can't please anyone, so I would tell the great Viola Davis to handle her business and do what's best for herself and her career. People will say and write what they want to regardless, anyway.

Miles Ellison

Letters like this shouldn't be directed to Viola Davis. They should be directed at the audience.

Akim

Um, Ms. Tanya Steele, You do realize that Viola is working with the talented Dee Rees on a television show for HBO, right? So she IS working with an independent black female filmmaker!

B

Great post! Especially this: "There are Black folks coming out of that school with screenplays that offer complex, interesting characters and lifestyles." Plain and simple, they are not offering checks and that's why she's not taking the roles (but that would have been too blunt for Viola Davis to say, and it would've undermined her whole argument). Anyway, I should add that Samuel L. Jackson has done at least 3 indie films, including Eve's Bayou, that I've seen (although the names escape me at the moment).

Neziah

Interesting essay. I wasn't aware Viola said those things until now. I'm not a big fan of generalizations, myself. Maybe she should try contacting our current working female black filmmakers and writers (as few of them as there are) and try to work something out.

Jug

Okay. I get why everyone is upset with what Viola said. She did not qualify her statement as "some" scripts. "Some" Black screenwriters. But, in order to make a larger point about how we see ourselves, I'll ask-How often on this very site do we say "Black People This" & "Black People That"? Hell, there was a an article "Black People Don't: " LOL Well, obviously not ALL Black people engage in whatever we're talking about or what Viola was talking about. Not all scripts by Black people are crackheads, hookers, or maids. Not ALL Black screenplays are about racism, slavery or Jim Crowe. Not ALL scripts are about even being Black. BUT, and let's be honest, a good number of them are. And Why? Because people write "what they know" & people also want to make money. Some want to make a moving gripping piece of art, which may or may not be about those ideas, but many more want to get Paid. And stories of that ilk have a proven track record with not just White Audiences but Black Audiences as well. And Yes, it sucks royal ass to be a talented screenwriter coming out of NYU, Columbia, Howard and not have someone look at your project with not only respect, but a vested business interest & get it passed along-simply because you're Black. Especially when it contains NONE of the above themes &/or character tropes. But Viola did reference the scripts that SHE had received-and her point, which for better or worse was a rather selfish one akin to Spike Lee's issue about INSIDE MAN-was that she thought it would be DIFFERENT. She thought that a Black writer would send her some shit that has her looking like she feels on the inside & like those wonderful pictures above. All the while letting her showcase her natural AND honed talent. What Charlie Murphy say "WRONG. WRONG." LOL So while everyone is soo mad that Viola "blamed" Black writers (which she did not btw-please rewatch that snipped & pay close attention to her statement), let's look at the reality of the situation. Does anyone think that Viola Davis would be offered the sort of roles normally given to Halle Berry, Paula Patton, Gabrielle Union, Angela Bassett or Beyonce WITHOUT being nominated for an Oscar? Do you think she'd get the Whitney Houston role in SPARKLE? Or as Angela role in JUMPING THE BROOM? And I'm asking seriously, not answering with what you think is "right", "politically correct" or "Down for the Brown". As amazing an actress as she is, would Allison Janney (if you don't know who she is, Look Her Up) be offered the roles given to Kim Basinger? Halle Berry played roles that Viola could have done in her sleep but was lauded because we elevate "outward" Beauty & Halle had to "dress down". We don't look at Viola and think "oh she can be attractive". So guess what roles she gets, regardless of who she played on stage or where she trained. And as great as she is in them, since we don't deem her "attractive" we don't see her as "Acting" (same way they did the kids from the 4th season of THE WIRE, thought they were real corner boys except many of them are stage trained & performed at places like The Kennedy Center-but hey whatever). Would folks cast Ving Rhames in a Denzel role, though Ving is an NYU cat & speaks normally with as CRISP a diction as Colin Firth? Dude hits his plosives like a champ! Why do we think things would be different, because we're Black? What, because we're all in the "struggle"? We still have our biases & what we deem as beautiful like everyone else-and that is BEFORE we put money into the mix. All these blog postings about skin color, light vs. dark & all that nonsense. Unless it's germane to the story, why is it even an issue? I'll tell you why, it's because we use it to determine beauty & worth & that translates to Dollars. For my money, I would rather see Viola or Allison Janney read the phone book. But then again, I like Actors. I like Acting. I like the magic of it, just like watching David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear. I'm not just "entertained" but I'm enamored with the skill & showmanship it takes to make me emotionally, mentally & often times physically invested in something I know to be complete horseshit. Now in all of this, I do agree that she can't make that lump assessment. BUT, I think it's not a failing of her seeing all Black writers that way, it's a failing of what she gets. And THAT is on her people AND on her, for not searching them out. Cuba waited for Gold to cross his desk and he got CHILL FACTOR & SNOW DOGS. The rest is history. I agree with the sentiment about Black producers getting together & bankrolling these types of projects-The "non-crack, hoe, drug dealer, maid, Slavery, living oppressed" fables that are so easily the stuff of dramatic narrative. They are out there and so are these producers, but they just don't seem to be at the higher levels where things are actually getting done & mountains are being moved. But I could be wrong. And it's not that what Viola said was wrong. I've read my fair share of garbage pieces by ALL colors of strata-& Yes, some Black-but what she said is True. But A truth. HER experience. That's something that she should've clarified…probably wouldn't have helped because it's not as sexy a soundbite but still…

Nope Not Feeling This

Directing this letter at Viola Davis doesn't seem like the way to go. I hear what you're saying but in this approach, the writer seems to be selling out and playing to the same "standards" that taint the industry. This commentary would be better directed elsewhere. Here, it kinda feels like you're riding Viola's glory- and the window of opportunity around her recent success.

Was calling her out like this really effective? If the good scripts are out there, maybe you can write an open letter to some producer about a particular film that should be produced. Your voice and opinion are valued but let's chose our battles here and direct them so that they progress 'us' and not cause unnecessary bicker and critique among those of us that are doing well.

DVBernard

I can appreciate where you're coming from, but I think you may have to ask a more fundamental question — especially if you're pointing fingers at the black community. It's easy to blame "stars" for not for not adhering to our ideals, or not showing the requisite amount of courage. However, the fundamental question is this: Are black filmgoers going to seek out those movies (the non-crackhead mother ones, etc.) after they've been made? You rightly call for more nuance and "imagination" in films/art, but are those things rewarded in the black community? I'm not convinced. Black people will line up around the block to see Tyler Perry; black church groups made it a point to go see "The Help." Who (black or otherwise) is lining up to see a nuanced film about Americans (of any race) tackling the pervasive problems of our country? I no longer have faith in the glib narrative that such roles/films exist mainly because of white racism. In the late 1980s and early 90s, black filmgoers sought out Spike Lee Joints for their messages. During this brief period, black music was similarly conscious, with groups like Public Enemy coming to the fore; in literature, books like Toni Morrison's BELOVED lit up the black literary imagination (as opposed to sistagurl and thug nigga books). I don't see much evidence that that ethic still exists. Black people tried imagination and nuance for a while, then became bored with it — like the rest of America. No one actor is to blame for this, or even emblematic of the problem. The problem is us.

jmac

Thank you Tanya. Listened to the interview S&A posted last week. Been waiting for your commentary and contribution to the topic.

sandra

The Help has become Viola Davis's Monster's Ball. :(

Donella

I do believe Viola's frustrations are with the industry. Tavis challenged her to comment on the real issue, but she's cautious. The repercussions to her career would be harsh [Example: Monique?]. However, the repercussions of taking her frustration with the industry out on Black screenwriters would not be as severe. Easier targets, maybe. I'm still going to watch The Help, just as I watched Imitation of Life and Gone With the Wind (without a single delusion of Hollywood's intentions). I just watched Mississippi Damned, and saw an interview with the filmmaker who stated that Kasi Lemmons holds the record for number of films directed by a Black female at three. Whoa! I also have to agree that the creative and thoughtful screenplays exist and this site (Shadow and Act) proves that every day.

Jeremy

agree.

Mia

Thank you, Tanya! When I saw Viola's interview where she said 99% of scripts she receives from Black writers are about crack addicted mothers I wanted to scream at the TV. I highly doubt that's true. But in the slight chance it is my question to Ms. Viola is if she could find humanity playing Mammy in 2011, you're telling me out of all these crackhead mother scripts there is no humanity??? Perhaps if a white woman sold a best selling book about a crackhead mother then she'd see the humanity.

But I get it. I really don't want to see her play a crackhead, either. So now Ms "two time Academy Award nominee with your own production company" Viola Davis, have you sought out Dee Rees, Ava Duvernay, Shonda Rhimes, Mara Akil or any other black female writers who have gained acclaim NOT writing about crackheads to come to you with scripts/pitches?

LeonRaymond

Ha! take that to Black racist, The part where she said that she only gets scripts that are more demoralizing and disrespectful than any thing whites have sent us, just threw us all under the bus, F..k NYU , i got a group of awesome writers who have some powerful scripts that have nothing at all to do with crack heads , drug dealers, dealers at all , seriously awesome scripts , but her agents and handlers told them all , "Sorry we don't take unsolicited screenplays thank you good bye, we can uplift your image and projects you take in a heartbeat. We can change the entire landscape of what you choose to do, we can produce and make it projects that would keep you up all night with excitement, but that Black racism is thick and hard core. and that statement that we are destroying the Black artist , that's deep. the bus rolled over us and then back up and rolled over us again , I got tire marks from it. Oh well , Latino film forever from a Black man cause Black racism is ugly as hell, we know all about White racism, but to be shot in the back at home is very hard to deal with!!!! Tanya you were right on, here 's a script for Viola, LOG LINE : Former, criminal research assistant (Viola) , who quit under a cloud and now works as an exotic dancer in a club, gets handed a case to check up on a man an old friend is dating as the young girl who was the seeker thinks her mom is dating a man who's family has ties to the Neo White supremacy and fears for her mother and ask Viola 's character to help find the truth.

Well not one crack head in that entire premise -up for grabs everyone -write it for Viola and see if she will take it on. By the way we are so talented we got a million of them like that of different genres not one crack head in any of them.

I hear you

And greatly appreciated reading this!

Yvette Ganier

Dear Tanya: The courage of your convictions surmount any imagined fear that one might stoop to think comes with taking such a risks to tell the truth. God grant me that kind of courage. Too many of us get beat up by the industry and we go away. Those of us who stay and make comebacks are seeking the like-minded artists who can lift us up as a community capable of doing new and great things. Hence, my path. Actress/Producer. We all gotta eat and and so I like how you put it! "Just say you want the paycheck and the exposure. We can live with that. But, don't throw black filmmakers and screenwriters under the damn bus. We are out here struggling, fighting, facing rejection, dealing with false starts, having doors closed in our faces because we are trying to bring a truth and a humanity to the film world." Tanya Steele you are not just talking the talking, you are walking the walk. In your own words, "If you have a Black filmmaker in your life, show them some love." I love you, girl. And I can keep counting the hardworking and talented filmmakers that I work with consistently who are writing awesome roles for Black actors. I have had Black filmmakers ask me, as an actor, to help with their work. Doing readings and workshops. Some of those films have been produced. But without me. Mainly because the system dictates that they must get a 'name' to star in the film or it might not get done. Listen, I get it. I hold no grudges. Get your film done the best way you know how. But personally, if I subscribed to that practice, I'd be putting into action a belief that purports I'm not good enough to have the actual role. That system is flawed and is keeping too many of us on the outside. I'm grateful for filmmakers like yourself, and Chinonye Chukwu, Charles S. Dutton, Harry Davis, Alrick Brown to name a few Black storytellers, who are forging through the mess. But yes, along my journey, I've read script after script from writer/directors who create roles for actors that are Black, beautiful, 3-dimensional with complicated lives who are crack-heads, lovers, wives, husbands, professionals, church ladies who are "messy" and all that's in between. xo, Yvette

Marian

I salute your courage for writing this. The same argument works with women actors and women screenwriters and directors. Some, like Meryl Streep, work a lot with women but (of course) they're carefully chosen and not unknowns, though Mamma Mia was Phyllida Lloyd's first movie, I think. But I'd love to see her, Angelina Jolie, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Foster etc etc join Viola Davis, to seek out, work with, and advocate for, unknown women filmmakers within and outside the US who are free thinkers and have grand imaginations. We need their help to get our stories out there.

TK

here, here!

fraunpetri

While there are good points here, it's incredibly reductive and doesn't address some of the larger questions present here. Viola Davis has been acting for over 20 years in every manner of stage and screen. She didn't get her first TV role till she was nominated for a Tony. Her career has seen pretty much everything an african american character actress possibly could. Scripts have been passed to her from all manner of filmmaker and she has made a career and earned a livelihood in a cutthroat and brutal business. Is she responsible for the films that hollywood is willing to make?

Name one role that she could have been in Steven McQueen's Shame probably the most critically praised film from a black filmmaker last year. Will Smith can decide the path of hollywood with the movies he chooses to make, Viola Davis is a character actor and cannot. It would be great to see her get a chance to explore her range, but I don't believe she is responsible for getting it financed nor should she work for free because an NYU film graduate happens to want her in a short.

I too want hollywood to change, but if Spike Lee can't get financing for a followup to Do the right thing and it still sits unsold after Sundance, how can we blame Viola Davis? If she refused to play the role of a maid, they would give someone else the part and if all african-american actors refused the role they would just write stories with all white casts.

Point the finger at the superstars who can decide exactly how Hollywood should change and have the clout to make it happen. Hopefully Viola Davis can get there, but till then, let's not knock down the talented, they need all the help we can give them.

Michelle

As an actor who has had the pleasure of playing in your sandbox, I say bravo sis! Keep getting it said. The revolution of the imagination has arrived!

Zemrag

You nailed it. Couldn't have been written better. Black talent was called out and Black talent answered back.

I held off seeing The Help, for the some of same reasons. But Saturday night I broke down and viewed the film. You are correct, no need to see it, TOTAL waste of time.

Again, great piece, keep it up. The political propaganda that this film is, must be answered.

Booker T. Mattison

Salient points all, Steele! Kudos to you!

Akim

SIGH! Tanya, your mindset is destroying the black artist!

the3p.com

Exactly! I was so turned-off by Viola Davis after that interview. I spent some time considering an open letter, but thought better of it. I knew there was someone else out there that could tackle it just right. And here you are. This is why I love this blog. Thank you!

Damon Colquhoun of The Passionate People Project {the3p.com}

Cynthia

Nice Tanya! Love how you took it "there"…the place that makes everyone squirm. Be prepared for the wrath. lol

CarltonJordan

snooze. you lost me at 'didn't see The Help' – your whole argument was based on something you haven't seen.

Dui

This is the most beautiful thing I've read in a while. I love Viola!! But I love the free thinking artist journey as well!! I truly think there is a balance that can and will be found. We ALL struggle to get our stories off the ground and I COMPLETELY understand where you are emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually.

Christina B

A thousand thanks to S&A and Ms. Steele for such an eloquent statement! We will in fact break through one brave voice at a time.

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