Viola Davis has opened up about being mistakenly confused for a director’s housekeeper while on set.
During the Kering Women In Motion conversation at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, presented by Variety, award winner Davis revealed that a male director called her by his maid’s name decades ago.
“I had a director who did that to me. He said, ‘Louise!’ I knew him for 10 years, and he called me Louise and I find out that it’s because his maid’s name is Louise,” Davis remembered. “I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago. But what you have to realize is that those micro-aggressions happen all the time.”
Davis, who founded the production company JuVee Productions with her husband Julius Tennon, discussed the lack of roles for darker-skinned Black women in both the TV and film landscapes, citing the inherent colorism in Hollywood.
“I know that when I left ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ that I don’t see a lot of dark skin women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services,” Davis said, in conversation at Cannes with Variety‘s chief correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister. “And that ties into ideology and ethos and mentality, and that’s speaking in the abstract. Why aren’t you hiring a dark skin woman when she walks in the room and you say she blows you away? Create space and storytelling for her so when she thrives she’s not thriving despite of her circumstance but thriving because of her circumstance.”
Davis is currently starring in and producing the historical epic “The Woman King” based on the true story of an all-female African military regime that existed until 1904. Yet, Davis added, landing funding for Hollywood roles is distinctly limited to stereotypical Black stories.
“If I wanted to play a mother whose family lives in a low-income neighborhood and my son was a gang member who died in a drive-by shooting, I could get that made,” Davis said. “If I played a woman who was looking to recreate herself by flying to Nice and sleeping with five men at the age of 56 — looking like me, I’m going to have a hard time pushing that one, even as Viola Davis.”
Davis, who played a supporting role in “Eat Pray Love” to Julia Roberts’ midlife sexual awakening story, noted that a race-swapped iteration wouldn’t be as big of a blockbuster, even almost 25 years after “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”
Davis shared that “people can’t reconcile the Blackness with the spiritual awakening and the sexuality. It’s too much for them.”
The “First Lady” star previously opened up about being told she was not “pretty enough” and “too dark” for rom-com leading roles. At 2022 Cannes, Davis elaborated that it “really gets on my damn nerves” and “breaks my heart and it makes me angry.”
“A lot of it is based in race. It really is,” Davis added of being judged based on appearance. “Let’s be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blonde hair, blue eyes and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now. We could talk about colorism, we could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”
Watch the full discussion with Davis below.