Advice

Viola Davis: ‘People of Color Are Part of the Human Experience, Too’

Feb. 28, 2016

The award-winning actress on what we all need to do to help increase diversity in the entertainment industry

As Viola Davis will tell you, anyone who finds herself in a position of power has only a “window” of time during which she can influence others—and Davis is certainly taking advantage of her window.

“It’s not so much about the Oscars; that’s aiming small,” she told Motto earlier this week while promoting her work with The Vaseline Healing Project. “[Diversity isn’t] a hashtag in my life. It is my life. And it’s something that I know people of color talk about all the time. It’s not just a hot topic.”

Davis talked about why diversity in the entertainment industry is such an important cause—and what everyone can do to further it.

On the lack of opportunities for people of color in the industry
“I’m not going to get the same kind of roles as Meryl Streep. I’m not going to get the same kind of roles as Julianne Moore. I’m not going to get those same roles. I’m just not. Now, I’ve been out there for 30 years. I’ve gotten two Tony Awards. I’ve done Broadway, Off-Broadway. I’ve come out of Julliard. I’ve done television, film, all of it. But there is not the same opportunity for me. Even though I would say that, if given the chance, I could show people that I could do just as well as any one of my Caucasian counterparts.”

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On the importance of diversity
“You’ve probably had this experience watching Room or watching Carol or watching The Revenant—you have a human experience…And people of color are part of the human experience, too. Art has got to reflect life, or else it’s not art. It’s commerce. It’s filtered, watered-down kind of art. And I think that what I want to see is truth. ”

On casting creatively
“Any role can be reimagined. There’s not one thing that you are that I cannot be. I’m just as much of a woman, I’m just as vast. I’m probably just as humorous. I’ve probably had some of the same experiences you’ve had with dating. Who knows?… As long as you’re a part of the human family, then there’s not one role that cannot be imagined with someone of color.”

On what audiences need to do to effect change
“I can’t be an actor in my room. You could paint in your room. You can’t act in your room. What you need is a director, you need a script, you need lighting, you need makeup. And finally, you need an audience. And so what does that mean? That means that when you plop your money down for a movie, then you’ve got to plop the same amount of money down for a movie with people who look like me. You have to have an expansive enough imagination to accept me in the same way you accept Julianne Moore.

“And what I think has happened in the past is that people talk, talk, talk, and then I’m presented as a leading lady, I’m presented as someone sexual, and that’s where the prejudice comes in. That’s when the walls come in. That’s when you put your money back in your pocket and say, ‘I’d rather see Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.’ And I’m encouraging people not to do that. Because that sends a message to people in power that, ‘You don’t belong in those narratives. You belong in the kitchen as the help. You belong in the ‘hood as the ghetto mother who’s on crack, you know. That’s where you belong.’

“And so I’m encouraging you to be a part of the collaboration, the artistic collaboration.”