Viola Davis's #SeeHer Speech Was a Powerful Acknowledgement to Black Feminism in Film

By Kelsey Duchesne

 

The Critics Choice Awards unveiled a new honor this year-- the #SeeHer award, and Amy Adams presented it to the fiercely deserving Viola Davis. “[Davis] was nominated for an Oscar for one scene,” Adams said, referring to their film Doubt. “[She was] opposite Meryl Streep. That’s how good she was, and that’s how good she is.” Davis stars on the ABC drama How To Get Away With Murder, and starred opposite Denzel Washington as Frances in this year's Fences, a film based off an award winning-play the pair also starred in. Later in the evening, Davis took home her second award of her evening for her role as Frances.

Graciously accepting the award, Davis took a page out of the Roxane Gay handbook and spoke about being an imperfect (ya know, human) role model for women. “It’s hard to accept being a role model for women when you’re trying to lose weight,” she began. “But, it’s true.”

Davis continued by describing the personal journey that aligned with playing the role of Annalise Keating, the main character on HTGAWM. “I’ve always discovered the heart of my characters by asking, ‘Why?’ When I was handed Annalise Keating, I said, ‘She’s sexy, she’s mysterious, you know?’ I’m used to playing women who gotta gain 40 pounds and have to wear an apron,” she said. “So I said, “My God, I have to lose weight, I gotta learn how to walk like Kerry Washington in heels, I gotta lose my belly…” And then I asked myself, ‘Well, why do I have to do all that?’ I truly believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and I just recently embraced that at 51.”

Davis’ bluntness on the differences between her HTGAWM characters versus the ones she had been previously offered is a reminder of the harsh typecasting that often happens to middle-aged women in Hollywood film, specifically black women. The “apron” reference was specifically poignant, given that the majority of black women nominated for Academy Awards, the majority have been blue-collar or poverty stricken. In fact, of the 10 black women ever nominated best actress Oscars, all actress’ played characters in poverty, and 9 were homeless, or close to being so. Davis was the exception to this figure (she was nominated for The Help for her role as Aibileen Clark in The Help), but she reminds us in her Critics Choice speech that her character in The Help, as wonderful a character as it was, wore an apron in her role as a maid.

Davis continued to speak about her world as the sexy and whip-smart Keating, and invited everyone to come experience the life of a 50-year-old black women, with her imperfections and all.  "I think my strongest power is that at 10 o'clock every Thursday night, I want you to come into my world. I am not going to come into yours. You come into my world and you sit with me, my size, my hue, my age, and you sit and you experience. And I think that's the only power I have as an artist, so I thank you for this award."

You can watch Davis’ full speech below:

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