Viola Davis: Being a black woman in Hollywood feels like ‘The Exorcist’


Viola Davis outlined the difficulty of being a black actress in Hollywood during her acceptance speech for the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award.

What is it like to be a woman of color trying to succeed in Hollywood? Viola Davis articulated her struggle with a horrifying bit of imagery while accepting the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast Wednesday.

You know the scene in “The Exorcist” where Linda Blair is tied to the bed, clearly possessed by demons, and has “Help me” written on her stomach?

“That’s how I feel every day in this Hollywood community and in my life in trying to live my authentic life,” Davis said, comparing the movie’s evil to the negative forces she faces daily while mustering the courage to speak out.  

.@violadavis describes what it’s like to keep hold of her identity in Hollywood: Like the little girl in “The Exorcist” who managed to write “help me” on her stomach while still being possessed by demons.

— Carly Mallenbaum (@ThatGirlCarly) December 5, 2018

Black characters, she explained, have repeatedly been marginalized in Hollywood, while cinematic universes of multidimensional white people have always been on display.

 “We have to be maternal, we have to be the savior, we have to make that white character feel better, we don’t have vaginas as black women,” she said. “I got tired of celebrating movies that didn’t have me in it. I don’t mean me as Viola, I mean me as a black woman.”

“So what’s the takeaway?” she asked the room filled with stars including Kesha, Ryan Coogler, Mandy Moore, Awkwafina and Lupita Nyong’o. “My main message is: Stop taming us. Stop!” she announced to cheers.

“Everything that I am and everything that we are inside is what makes art and this world rich. ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ ‘Leave it to Beaver’ is a lie,” she said. “I think that there’s something to be said about being wild.”

She continued, referencing her production company with husband Julius Tennon: “My big thing with JuVee Productions is there is no limit to how we see narratives with people of color. That there’s only so much I am gonna kowtow to this business, and my gift to anyone is that: Don’t let anybody tell you who you are.”


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