Viola Davis Talks Colorism and the Mammy Roles in Hollywood

By Jamilah King Sep 15, 2014

Viola Davis is ready to stand in the spotlight on her own terms. The actress was profiled by New York Times Magazine on Friday ahead of the debut of her new ABC series "How to Get Away With Murder." In it, Davis talks candidly about her experiences as a black actress in Hollywood, noting that this starring role is her first big opportunity to be more than a marginalized character. That includes her starring role in "The Help," which earned her an Academy Award nomination in 2011.

"I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish," Davis told the Times. "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."

Davis will star in the new series as Annalise Keating, an attorney and law professor with lots savvy and sex appeal. "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."

Read the whole profile in New York Times Magazine