During a recent Hollywood roundtable in advance of the Oscar awards, Viola Davis, George Clooney, Charlize Theron, and Christopher Plummer discussed the difficulty they have getting interesting roles and interesting films made in the industry.
An interesting thing happened when Christopher Plummer wondered aloud why Viola Davis, despite her immense talent, had never had a leading role in a film. Davis kept it all the way real and told Plummer the answer was simple: race.
“I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time,” she explained.
While Davis was told the group about the difficulty black actresses face in the industry, Theron chimed in–hoping to stroke Davis’ ego, but totally missing the point.
Theron playfully chided Davis, saying, “You have to stop saying that, because you’re hot as shit.’’
While I understand Theron’s willingness to want to remind her fellow female thespian that she’s JUST as beautiful as any other actress, she totally missed Davis’ point. Being a beautiful black woman who can act her ass off in Hollywood still doesn’t guarantee success.
There are scores of gorgeous, talented black actresses in Hollywood, and yet very few get the opportunity to anchor a major film. This is one of the reasons I was pleasantly surprised by Zoe Saldana’s casting in ‘Colombiana,’ because black women rarely get the opportunity to shine.
Clooney, who has been friends with Davis for years, seemed to understand where she was coming from and placed the blame on studio executives who are often removed from what people actually want to see.
Clooney explained, “The people who make these decisions always aim and the lowest common denominator and think the audience won’t get it ‘cuz their dumb.”
Despite the studio’s insistence that there is no ‘audience’ for black films or smart films or offbeat films or films where something isn’t being blown up every few minutes, Clooney insists, “There is a audience for all of this. We’ve just forgotten that.”
How can ‘the audience’ (black, white, Asian, Latino, etc.) demand better films from Hollywood?