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)