Why the Oscars needed Viola Davis more than Viola Davis needed an Oscar

Why the Oscars needed Viola Davis more than Viola Davis needed an Oscar

Thankfully, a Black woman winning an Oscar would not have been a new thing.

We have Halle Berry, Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Monique, and as of yesterday, Octavia Spencer to thank for that.  Yet, in the days, hours, and minutes leading up to this year’s Academy Awards, I was crossing my fingers and toes that Viola Davis would win the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Viola, who was nominated for her role in the screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s book, “The Help” was in a class of heavy hitters - some of the best and most talented actresses that Hollywood has to offer.   Yet, despite my admiration of Meryl Streep and my perpetual fear of Glenn Close ever since her role in Fatal Attraction, I felt that the Oscars needed Viola Davis and all that she embodies more than any benefit that she would ever get out of the award.

Since her initial win at the Screen Actors’ Guild awards, we have seen a transformation in Viola - one which for most could be dismissed as simply a change in her hair.  However, as a Black woman it is undeniable to observe that Viola has transcended from the role of being a Black woman seeking validation from Hollywood’s elite to an affirmed woman certain of her talent, beauty, and skill – seeking accreditation from no one but herself.

Black women, regardless of how beautiful, are held to a standard of beauty that requires an active effort to remain afloat of physical ideals of attractiveness that are oftentimes contrary to what is and what feels natural to us.  In effort to remain afloat of these ideals of beauty that are not designed to consider us; we poke and prod, we relax and straighten, we add lashes and bronzer, we commit to completing the Master Cleanse diet.

In the end, after all the effort, many Black women will feel beautiful but only for a moment – that is until mainstream standards establishes another criteria for beauty which requires even more effort and further minimizes that which comes naturally.

For many Black women, the journey to define beauty outside of the prodigal and schizophrenic paradigm of mainstream standards is a lifelong effort.

Yet, what we have seen is that Viola Davis, on the eve of her ascension into the realm of Hollywood’s Elite, at the peak of her career thus far, and on the precipice of her moment of going from a nationally recognized actress to a global icon, decided to step into this moment as a free and liberated woman, one not belabored by the unrealistic and culturally biased standards of beauty that surround her.

The ability for any woman to articulate, understand, and embody beauty as she defines it is a phenomenal feat.   For a woman to be daring enough to define it while the eyes of the world are on her is nothing short of admirable.

For this reason, Viola wasn’t simply a Black woman who would have won an Oscar; she was the face of a real woman stepping into her greatness physically, spiritually and professionally.

Hollywood is only as powerful as its ability to truthfully tell the stories of our collective history and imaginative future.  The true benefit of the award would have been to the institution that could claim such a phenomenal woman such as Viola as one of their own.

(Picture courtesy of US Weekly)


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    Dear K, I thought you might be interested in this....Tavis Smiley recently interviewed Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Bravo to Viola Davis for her very brave response to Tavis Smiley for his snarky ambivalence about her Oscar nomination for playing a maid.

    She angered Tavis when she responded as follows,

    "That very mindset that you and a lot of African-Americans have is absolutely destroying the black artist. The black artist cannot live in a place -- in a revisionist place -- the black artist can only tell the truth about humanity and humanity is messy, people are messy. Caucasian actors know that. They understand that... We as African-American artists are more concerned with image and message and not execution, which is why every time you see your images they've been watered down to the point where they where they are not realistic at all. It's like all of our humanity has been washed out."

    Here's the specific clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKIVUED0GE0 .

    And here is the entire segment, http://video.pbs.org/video/2194955259

    Clearly, still need to have more conversations about race and the need is becoming more and more urgent as the next Presidential election approaches.

  • Hi Carolesouthall!

    Thanks for your comment and the link! I had seen a small clip of the interview but not the entire segment. Good for her! Tavis is going to learn to start "thinking outside of the box" when it comes to defining what it means to be Black in...hollywood, politics, the U.S, etc.

  • Bravo to Viola indeed. Sometimes I wonder about Mr. Smiley. Our history is there and we should never allow anyone to revise it.
    Recently I was in horror over the fact that the World Book Encyclopedia doesn't have anything in it about the destruction of Tulsa Oklahoma's Black community by white supremacists bigots jealous of the success of Black Wall Street.

  • In reply to Danie:

    Thanks for your comment Danie! I wonder about Mr. Smiley as well. I don't know whether he suffers from bitterness or pretentiousness or a combination of both...at times.

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at kaywilliamsmith@gmail.com.

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