After Years of Supporting Roles, Viola Davis Relishes Lead Role in ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder”, Hopes to Inspire New Generation of Black Female Actors

Academy Award-nominated actor Viola Davis (GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

“Even when I get the fried-chicken special of the day, I have to dig into it like it’s filet mignon,” Viola Davis said. She was speaking not of meals, but of roles. During her 30-year career as an actress, Davis has played a crack-addicted mother (“Antwone Fisher”), the mother of an abducted child (“Prisoners”) and the mother of James Brown (“Get On Up”). Her characters often serve to “hold up the wall” of the narrative, she said, like the empathetic best friend in “Eat, Pray, Love” or the kindly stranger in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Or the kindly mental-institution psychiatrist in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” the kindly rape-treatment counselor in “Trust” or the kindly medium in “Beautiful Creatures.”

“I always got the phone call that said: ‘I have a great project for you. You’re going to be with, hypothetically, Vanessa Redgrave, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening,’ ” she said, sitting in the living room of her San Fernando Valley home, barefoot on the couch in a gray T-shirt and leggings, her hair wrapped under a black turban. “Then I get the script, and I have a role that lasts for a page or two.”

Yet over and over again, Davis has made these marginalized characters memorable. She earned her first Oscar nomination for eight minutes of screen time as the mother of a possible victim of molestation in “Doubt.” Four years later, she spent months conceiving an intricate back story to enliven Aibileen Clark, a housemaid with a sixth-grade education, in “The Help.” Davis earned her second Oscar nomination but soon enough returned to playing yet another government functionary or military officer. “I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish,” she said. “A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You’re going to get your three or four scenes, you’re not going to be able to show what you can do. You’re going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you’re going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That’s the truth.”

This fall, Davis, who is 49, is finally getting her shot at the anti-mammy. As the star of “How to Get Away With Murder,” a new series on ABC, Davis plays Annalise Keating, a flinty, stylish defense lawyer and law professor who employs her top students to help her win cases. After those students become entangled in a murder plot on their Ivy League campus, viewers will wonder whether Keating herself was involved in the crime. Davis plays Keating as cerebral and alluring, a fierce taskmaster who uses her sex appeal to her advantage, with a handsome husband and a lover on the side. It’s the kind of woman, in other words, that she has never gotten to play.

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In ‘‘How to Get Away with Murder,’’ Viola Davis plays a criminal-law professor who solves cases with her top students. The series debuts on Sept. 25 on ABC. (NICOLE RIVELLI / ABC)

“How to Get Away With Murder,” which includes Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, will be shown on Thursday nights after Rhimes’s two hit series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” a generous lead-in that the network hopes will result in an instant hit. But that will depend, in part, on whether viewers embrace Davis — “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” as she says — in her new capacity. “I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this. And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” she told me, referring to two African-American stars with notably lighter skin.

Davis and her ensemble cast are completing 15 episodes in five months, or a new episode about every 10 days. Our first meeting took place at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, one of her rare days off. As her 4-year-old daughter, Genesis, played in the kitchen nearby, Davis talked about Keating’s nuances and dynamism. After years of stock characters, she was thrilled to play a real protagonist, a fully developed, conflicted, somewhat mysterious woman. “It’s what I’ve had my eye on for so long,” she said. “It’s time for people to see us, people of color, for what we really are: complicated.”

Black actors have always had a tough time getting their due in Hollywood. After Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for best actor, in 1964, it would take almost four decades before Berry won for best lead actress. These days, when the paucity of strong black roles prompts suggestions of racism, film executives often cite economics in their defense. The American movie market makes up less than a third of global box-office receipts, and films with predominantly black casts typically don’t earn as much money overseas. “The Help,” which made $170 million in the United States, took in just $42 million internationally. By comparison, “Guardians of the Galaxy” made $556 million worldwide this summer, almost half of it from ticket sales abroad. Last year, the poster for “12 Years a Slave” in the Italian market featured images of either Michael Fassbender or Brad Pitt rather than its many black stars.

Films with largely black casts tend to be made on low budgets and marketed specifically to black audiences. In January, Sony’s Screen Gems scored with “About Last Night,” a romantic comedy with an all-black ensemble led by Kevin Hart: It cost $12 million and took in $49 million. But the conventional wisdom in the industry is that big-budget films like sweeping historical dramas, say, or special-effects-driven thrillers need a global audience to turn a profit. With a few notable exceptions (Denzel Washington, Will Smith), black actors are usually relegated to supporting roles. Black actresses, especially, face another hurdle: the darker-complected they are, the narrower a range of parts they are offered. Earlier this year, Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Oscar for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” said that her “night-shaded skin” had always been “an obstacle.”

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Pretty Period: New Website Highlights The Beauty Of Dark Skinned Women

pretty period feat

Source: Tumblr/Photos By Ann Marie Blake

One of the very valid criticisms women had for Bill Duke’s film Dark Girls, was the fact that it seemed to focus almost exclusively on the ways in which being a dark complected woman or girl was such a hardship. While the film touched on a very necessary conversation, it didn’t tell the full story. There was very little celebration of the beauty of dark skinned women.

Professor, scholar and producer, Dr. Yaba Blay, is working to fill in the gaps with a new website called “Pretty Period.” You’ve heard people offer up the backhanded compliment “pretty for a dark skinned girl”? Well Blay with the help of photographer Ann Marie Blake want you to know these dark skinned women are pretty period. She hopes the site will “visually demonstrate the sheer abundance of dark-skinned beauty. We are indeed everywhere. We stand as the rule, not the exception.”

On the About page for the site, Blay said,

“As an academic, I could have simply written about it (which I did) or discussed it in my classrooms (which I do), but after doing this work for what feels like my entire life, I’m at a point where I would much rather create than to critique.

Enter ‘Pretty. Period,’ a (soon to be) transmedia project created as a visual missive in reaction to the oh-so-popular, yet oh-so-offensive “compliment” – “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Our collective response is, “No, we’re pretty. PERIOD.”

Showcasing girls and women of brown-to-dark complexions in the truth of their beauty, ‘Pretty. Period’ emerges as a visual tribute to brown skin,  a visional testament to Black beauty, and a vision board for healing – both ours and yours.”

The site, which is broken off into several sections, includes information about the creators and collaborators, photos submitted by women who identify as brown or dark complected and official project photographs.

There is also a section called “Journal” where you’ll find very few critical pieces. Blay says this is because while there is much to say on the topic of dark skinned beauty, she wants to focus on the period part of the site’s name. There’s no need for an explanation or defense of the beauty of these women. It just is.

Check out some of the pictures here on the following pages and then be sure to head over and explore the beauty of the Pretty Period site and even submit your own photos if you’re so inclined.

See more at: http://madamenoire.com/327492/pretty-period-new-website-highlights-beauty-dark-skinned-women/#sthash.HcLtciWc.dpuf

OWN Offers Special Night of Programming this Sunday with ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’ and ‘Dark Girls’ Documentary

oprah and womenOprah Winfrey Network will present a night of compelling conversation on Sunday, June 23, beginning with Oprah’s Next Chapter (9-10 p.m. ET/PT) featuring Oprah’s in-depth conversation with some of Hollywood’s most powerful female African-American actresses including Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad and Gabrielle Union. In the discussion, the iconic actresses open up about the challenges, criticism and competition they face as African-American women in Hollywood. In the groundbreaking conversation, the women shed light on a topic that is not often discussed in the entertainment industry.

Immediately following is the world television premiere of the groundbreaking documentary Dark Girls (10 p.m. – 12 a.m. ET/PT) from filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry. The film explores the prejudices that dark-skinned women face throughout the world. Women share their personal stories, touching on deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes of society, while allowing generations to heal as they learn to love themselves for who they are. From filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry, Dark Girls made its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The DVD will be released September 24, 2013.

Sounds like must-see TV to us here at GBN. Be sure to tune in or set your DVRS!

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ Headed to OWN; More Films in the Making

ddark girlsBill Duke’s thought-provoking film, “Dark Girls” is headed to Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network this June.

The documentary first emerged in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival and had great promise of becoming something bigger and better. But it never turned up as a national theater release and continued to tour across the country.

Duke announced in 2012 at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, that he was in the middle of developing two feature documentaries as follow ups to “Dark Girls.”

“Yellow Brick Road” will look at the ‘colorism’ issue from the perspective of light-skinned Black women. The other documentary, “What Is A Man?” will explore masculinity and manhood as it has transformed from the beginning of time to present day. Filming for the project has already begun and it turns out Duke has been interviewing people from all around the world.

Watch the trailer for “Dark Girls” below:

article by Brittney M. Walker via eurweb.com

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