Viola Davis on being a dark-skin black woman in Hollywood: 'The paper bag test is still alive'
How to Get Away with Murder actress Viola Davis sat down with TheWrap for their Emmy cover story to talk about her now iconic role in the television series How to Get Away with Murder and to give her take on everything from ageism, sexism and racism.
When asked what made her character Annalise so interesting to viewers, Davis responded, “I felt like there should be something in each episode for women to look at and feel like it was familiar.”
Specifically, she addressed the scene in which her character sat down and took off her wig.
“Well, I didn’t want to be the Vogue woman. I didn’t want to be the woman who came in with the sexualized – I say sexualized, not sexy, because sexy is a certain self-consciousness to sexuality – I say that Annalise is sexual. Every time you see that sexual, mysterious, kind of cold woman, she always looks like she has that blow-dried hair and that dewy skin and, you know, those Double-Zero clothes. I did not want to be that woman because I don’t know that woman. And I’ve been watching that woman in movies for several years. And I felt like this was my chance to woman up.”
She went on to talk specifically about how unusual it was to get a role like Annalise because of the restrictions for actresses of her age, weight and skin color.
“That being said, when you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire,” David said. And in the history of television and even in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me. My age, my hue, my sex. She is a woman who absolutely culminates the full spectrum of humanity our askew sexuality, our askew maternal instincts. She’s all of that, and she’s a dark-skin black woman.”
You can read the entire amazing interview here.