Viola Davis was asked during Newsweek’s Oscar roundtable, “How is it possible that The Help is your first leading role?” The two-time Oscar nominee started off with: “There just aren’t a lot of roles for—I mean, I’m a 46-year-old Black actress who doesn’t look like Halle Berry—and Halle Berry is having a hard time. You know there’s not a lot of leading roles.”
Before the actress could finish her thought, Charlize Theron paused Davis in order to attest to her fellow actor’s aesthetic attributes. Mistaking a comment about prejudices towards race, gender, and age in Hollywood as a cry for a booster seat for her self-esteem, Theron dived in: “I’m going to have to stop you there for a second ‘cause that’s bullsh*t.”
“Why, you think I look like Halle Berry?”
“No. You have to stop saying that because you are hot as sh*t. You look amazing,” Theron declared.
I guess in her mind, seconds after she said this the skies were to open, the light would come down, celestial choirs would start singing and everyone in Hollywood would do the right thing and give Viola Davis lots of work. But, just like Hillary Clinton popping her privilege in our faces once upon a time, Charlize needed her bubble busted.
Indeed, while Theron’s affirmation that the two-time Academy Award nominated Davis is “hot as sh*t” was well meaning albeit whimsical, she should’ve waited for her turn to speak. Ever gracious, Viola smiled at Charlize and said, “I appreciate that, but I have an absolute understanding and awareness of the image I project, and there’s just not a lot of roles for women who look like me.” The direction of the J’Adore Dior spokeswoman’s mouth tilted downward towards her shoes not long after – no doubt an acknoweledgment as to what her “hot as sh*t” colleague meant before she cut her off.
The most concerning aspect of that exchange wasn’t Charlize’s condescension or dimness to the matter (unintentional or not); it’s her aloofness to the realities still plaguing many working Black actors. She is, after all, the first Africa-born actor to win an Academy Award in a major acting category. Was that tragically ironic fact alone not enough to push her to broaden her perspective about the way the world works?
I suppose no one ever whispered to Charlize that part of the rationale behind casting her as the romantic lead opposite Will Smith in Hancock was likely centered on the notion that two Black stars makes for a “Black movie” that the global box office will ignore. And considering that Theron was raised in South Africa during Apartheid, one might have hoped she'd have just a little bit more understanding of global racism than to think that Viola Davis simply doesn't realize that she's pretty.
Who am I kidding? A tall, thin, blonde hair, blue eyed, model-esque actress isn’t subjected to the world’s let alone Hollywood’s biases. At least, not before she turns 40 anyway. She doesn’t think about these things because she’s not compelled to.
Make no mistake, I like Charlize Theron just fine and don’t find her to be the enemy. Again, I do believe in her mind she was being helpful when she was essentially trying to tell Viola, “Buck up, you’re pretty, too.” Be that as it may, she proved exactly why in certain cases it’s better for one to listen rather than project. Now that she’s been enlightened to a different kind of reality, hopefully she’ll ponder on it a little longer… maybe even spread the word.