Viola Davis backstage at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards

January 30, 2017

by Carla Hay

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards took place on January 29, 2017, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

VIOLA DAVIS

SAG Award win:

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

(“Fences”)

Here is what this SAG Award winner said backstage in the SAG Awards press room.

Viola Davis at the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on January 29, 2017.
Viola Davis backstage at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW

The Academy Award nominations are not so white anymore this year, such as having three black nominees in the Supporting Actress category. Do you think it had anything to do with the complaints from last year? Have you ever had any fences of discrimination?

Yeah. Everybody has had fences in this business. There is a lot of typecasting: age, sex, color, dark skin, light skin. In response to “OscarsSoWhite”? No. I think that every nominee, from Naomie Harris to Octavia Spencer to “Hidden Figures” to “Fences” to “Moonlight” to Marhershala Ali are there because they deserve to be there. They’re not there because of the color of their skin. They put in the work. So the answer to that is “no.”

You know my response from here on out? I always use the three words like February 26 [the day of the Oscar ceremony this year] is going to come and now what? Is it just going to be a trend to talk about inclusion and I’d rather say inclusion and diversity? Or is it going to be a norm that we understand that we’re all part of the narrative, that all our stories deserve to be told? And that art indeed has to reflect life in our culture, and people are going to demand it. That’s where we’re at.

We’re not “The Brady Bunch” anymore. We are “Blackish.” We are “Fresh Off the Boat.” We are “Jane the Virgin.”  We’re “Stranger Things,” with a hodgepodge of cultures and races.

You don’t mask your blackness, and often in the entertainment industry, black people are encouraged to do that. Is it intentional for you that you make it known: “I’m a black woman and I’m representing that sexuality and all those many complexities that we have”?

Well, it’s sort of both. Sometimes I feel like I’m forced to just remind people that I look different because I don’t want to sound ‘Kumbaya,’ but I just always feel that you have to look at your life like a relay race, and what your life is about when it is about running your leg of the race. So what is your leg of the race? What is your legacy going to be?

And I saw absence of women who look like me on TV as of even eight years ago. And to tell you the truth, was still sort of absent in leading roles especially when you’re darker than a paper bag. So I do intentionally say that at times because I do want to wake people up. I want to wake people up and know that it becomes a knee-jerk response to write narratives sometimes and just to have a homogenized group of people.

You know, it’s like being invited to the best party in the world and not thinking about who hasn’t been invited to the party. And I want to tell people that we in the past have not been invited to the party. So it is an intentional but when I do say it, I’m not saying it to put myself on the outside. It’s not to be ultra-political. It’s just to raise my hand and say, “Are you aware that I’m here? And I’m sexual and I have my own beauty and I have a story that deserves to be told.” That’s it.

Can you talk about what it meant for you to win this for a project that both you and Denzel Washington are very passionate about?

See, I have witnessed his hard work and I understand what is what is necessary to fulfill that role of Troy Maxon. I think at one point he had a 13-page monologue. I mean, those monologues are Shakespeare; they’re “King Lear.” Even though Troy is a garbage man, he is a giant in his life; he is the center of his universe. So I knew the sheer scope and magnitude of talent that it takes to play Troy: a big man and unapologetic man, a man of his time.

And I just thought Denzel did a tremendous job and you just always want an actor does a tremendous job to be recognized. And then it can’t so much about this project. I always say the thing that I love about Denzel is he didn’t think the leaf or the sky or shooting the ground was more important than shooting the face of the actors. That’s rare.

So I think I blew his eardrum out, but hopefully you’ll forgive me. And for me, August Wilson gave me my Equity card. I become a professional actress in 1989 doing “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at Trinity Rep in Providence. Israel Hicks directed it, and I thought I had made it. And that was the beginning of my career. So now I feel it’s very apropos. It’s come full circle.