Viola Davis Details Experience When Director Called Her By His Maid’s Name, Colorism and Rejection in Hollywood

Viola Davis attends Kering “Women In Motion” photocall during 75th Cannes Film Festival 2022 at Majestic Barrière on May 19, 2022 in Cannes, France.

Viola Davis attends Kering “Women In Motion” photocall during 75th Cannes Film Festival 2022 at Majestic Barrière on May 19, 2022 in Cannes, France.
photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Kering (Getty Images)

During a conversation at the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival, Oscar, Emmy and Tony-award winning actress Viola Davis opened up about the time she was miscalled by a director during the early days of her career.

Speaking to Hollywood’s biased perception of Black actors and the limitations she still experiences because of her dark skin tonethe Fences actor recalled the time when a director called her by his maid’s name during one of her projects.

“I had a director who did that to me. He said, ‘Louise!’ I knew him for 10 years and he called me Louise and I find out that it’s because his maid’s name is Louise,” Davis explained during the Kering Women in Motion conversation according to variety. “I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago. But what you have to realize is that those micro-aggressions happen all the time.”

Of her struggles with getting certain roles and certain projects greenlit despite her decorated legacy, Davis noted:

I know that when I left ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ that I don’t see a lot of dark skin women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services. And that ties into ideology and ethos and mentality, and that’s speaking in the abstract. Why aren’t you hiring a dark skin woman when she walks in the room and you say she blows you away? Create space and storytelling for her so when she thrives she’s not thriving despite of her circumstance but thriving because of her circumstance.

If I wanted to play a mother whose family lives in a low income neighborhood and my son was a gang member who died in a drive by shooting, I could get that made. If I played a woman who was looking to recreate herself by flying to Nice and sleeping with five men at the age of 56 — looking like me, I’m going to have a hard time pushing that one, even as Viola Davis.

When discussing the rejection she’s faced over the years, Davis later added: “A lot of it is based in race. It really is. Let’s be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blonde hair, blue eyes and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now. We could talk about colorism, we could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”

To view the full conversation, head on over to Variety’s official YouTube page.

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