Tag Archives: Viola Davis

Viola Davis: Redefining Classical Soul Sistah

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The first film I remember seeing Viola Davis in was “Antoine Fisher” in 2002 where she played Fisher’s long sought after mother, Eva May. She was only in the film near the end for about ten minutes or so and was completely silent for most of it but in my opinion she stole the entire scene.  Her performance was so indelible that it’s what I remember most about the film. That same year she also played a supporting role in one of my favorite films, “Solaris.” She played Dr. Gordon, the only Black person on a space ship crew, or actor for that matter in an all white cast. There was no missing her talent here. She was fully committed to the role, self-possessed, passionate, intense and powerful; another unforgettable performance that could have easily been underplayed by a lesser performer.

Since then she has played supporting roles in a string of hugely successful and critically acclaimed films leading up to her starring role in Shonda Rhimes hit television series, “How to Get away with Murder” as Annalise Keating, the headstrong  and controversial lawyer.  From taking on ignorant and insensitive comments about her dark skin and allegedly “non-classical” beauty to her decision to remove her wig and all of her make-up in one of the most talked about episodes of HTGAWM, we have been fascinated with Viola’s ability to strategically expose America to the ways in which real women, women of color particularly, negotiate public appearance and a sense of inherent value in a world designed to marginalize, fragment and fetishize our entire beings.

Remaining poised, elegant and confident in both her strengths as a formidable actress and a Black woman, we look forward to seeing Viola Davis continue to tear down these reductive standards in ways that challenge, disturb and engage as well as speak authentically to the parts of ourselves we rarely get to see on screen.

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How to be a Black Woman and remove your make-up in “How to Get Away with Murder”

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When was the last time you saw a leading actress remove all her make-up in an extended, tight, super close up shot?

The only scene that leaps to my mind is Glen Close as the Marquise in the last few minutes of “Dangerous Liasons,” one of my all time favorite films. As she removes her make-up in a show of total ruin we see how truly ugly she is in spirit because she has destroyed any chance there ever was for love in her life. Now it’s Viola Davis in the last ten or so minutes of the last episode of “How to get Away Murder” when she removes all her make-up and gains more and more ground with every swipe.

I’m only just beginning to immerse myself in the series and I have to admit, I still have not seen the first episode in its entirety as yet.

I KNOW! DON’T THROW THINGS AT THE SCREEN.

I think I was just a bit annoyed at all the law student characters. All I wanted was Viola but they’re starting to grow on me and I can see where they are essential to the plot and the movement and development of the show. There have only been four episodes of the series so far and with each one, I see more than I’ve never seen in any television series before.

For instance, I think it was in one the two episodes before the last that Annalise is shown at her home taking off her wig revealing her own short natural hair, pinned back to her head. I was not prepared for that and was immediately intrigued by the fact that Shonda included this reveal with zero fanfare. I watched Annalise deep in thought, and sitting in bed alone and something in me was just like wow. This happens all the time, everyday. Women come home, take off their wigs, make-up, sit in front of a mirror and contemplate. But rarely see this process documented on screen. The idea with everything women do to beautify themselves or appear presentable, particularly Black Women (because we’re not supposed to consider ourselves beautiful unless we have applied some cosmetic form of skin lightener or hair straitening, curl loosening potion) and especially as power players in a high level positions, is that even if the world knows your appearance is a constructed facade based on white standards of beauty, or male standards of power, you never show the world how you put it on or take it down.

V Davis Make-upWhen Annalise is shown in this last episode, not only taking off her perfect wig but slowly removing all of her make-up in front of her dresser mirror, there is such a powerful and subtle statement being made. It was no surprise for me to learn that this was actually Davis’ idea.  The removal of all her cosmetic arsenal does not disarm an actress like Viola Davis. And I don’t believe it is meant to disarm her character. You don’t even get the sense that she cares about any of it. She’s quite beyond the power of make-up or wigs to define who she knows she is. The scene is electric with the building up of inevitable confrontation with her husband. It addresses a multitude of systemic relational dynamics by engaging the audience with it’s own feelings about what is taking place rather than making Annalise a victim or soul representative of something many Black women fall prey to with regards to the dominant culture’s construction and evaluation of female beauty.

This scene is not primarily about make-up or wigs the removal of them or their application. Shonda just shows you what happens in the households of nearly every adult American woman alive on a daily basis. She leaves it up to you and proceeds on with the development of the story.