Viola Davis Addresses Colorism in The Entertainment Industry: ‘The Paper Bag Test Is Still Very Much Alive And Kicking’

Viola Davis is one of the most revered actresses of our time, but even with all of her talent and accolades, she admits that she has had her own experience with colorism in the industry.

In a recent interview with The Wrap, Davis shared her thoughts on the lack of opportunities for African-American actresses in Hollywood. While she was clear that stereotypes weren’t just perpetuated by whites, she explained that darker-skinned women like herself, are often cast in less desirable roles, such as drug addicts and prostitutes.

“When you do see a woman of color on-screen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking,” she told The Wrap for its cover story on the Emmy Awards. “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.”

Through her starring role as prestigious law professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” Davis feels that barriers have been broken when it comes to representation because she’s never seen anything like it on television. In 2015, she became the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance on the Shonda Rhimes directed show.

“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,” Davis said. “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.”

Apparently, for Davis, plans to do more work off the screen give her a much more meaningful experience. As a producer, Davis wants to be involved in the casting process of television and films, in order to create more opportunities and empower talented actors who have yet to get roles they deserve.

“I keep saying there’s so many actors out there, all kinds of actors who are journeymen actors,” the actress said. “They’ve been out there for so long. And if given the opportunity, they could amaze the world and elevate the art. So to be in the position of power to be able to give those actors an opportunity would be priceless.”

The 50-year-old entertainment veteran is the first Black actor to have won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award in acting.

About Retonjah Burdette

Retonjah Burdette is a publicist and published content curator from Atlanta, Georgia. After receiving her Bachelor’s in Public Relations from Georgia Southern University in 2017, Burdette then went on to get field experience with one of the top entertainment PR firms in Atlanta. Since the start of her career, Burdette has worked with a number of actors, authors, entrepreneurs and independent artists. She has secured placements on media outlets such as TV One’s Sister Circle, Good Day Atlanta on FOX, V-103, CBS 46, Kontrol Magazine, KISS 104.1 and Rolling Out to name a few. In addition to her growth in PR, she is currently a writer for Baller Alert, a top platform for news and entertainment. In hopes of bringing the visions of others to life, she launched Girl Avant-Garde in 2019, a creative agency specializing in innovative content, branding and PR in entertainment. Her overall goal is to have autonomy over her creative thought process and to teach branding to new entrepreneurs and others pursuing a career in the public eye.

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2 comments

  1. I worked with a group Nigerians and Haitians in a kitchen once
    they would make fun African Americans and call them whiners
    “they brought us here!!” the Nigerians would mock the African Americans while laughing
    “Yes, you were born here–you are lucky” they would say.

  2. Viila speaks truth to power. Go on Goddess with your bad ass self!! Love her!

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