This video is so gut wrenchingly douchy that I am warning you not to watch it if you are prone to bowel obstruction.
“I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time,” said Davis.
Katherine Heigel interrupts and says, “You have to stop saying that, because you’re hot as shit.’’
And then everyone starts filming an episode of Sesame Street. Christoher Plummer deserves on Oscar just based on this video. His colleagues are all stabbing themselves in the genitals next to him, and he doesn’t flinch. “Do you think that [racism] is changing?” asks Michael Fassbender earnestly as he bleeds to death.
Cue controversy, summarized by The Daily Beast:
How sweet of Theron to say, and how thoroughly misguided and offensive as well. Davis was honestly confronting a number of painful and complicated issues faced by many women of color in Hollywood today…
A few things to observe about this conversation.
1. The power dynamic in the room shifts decidedly to Davis: she’s the last word on the subject. “Well, she’s black.” Yes, but if the question is why does white Hollywood not value black actors, then white Hollywood should have the answers. Yet it falls to Davis to “explain” it. Note this carefully: criticism from below is permitted because it is powerless. Criticism from above– “why are we doing this?” is psychologically impossible; it always gets deferred to the “why do they who do this, do this?” The individuals aren’t discussing the issue of race, they are trying desperately to avoid it.
“How sweet of Theron to say, and how thoroughly misguided and offensive as well.” False.
She didn’t say it for Davis’s benefit. Theron has the weakest psyche in the group, so it makes sense that she is the one to interrupt to tell Davis she is hot. She cannot stand the anxiety of the conversation, so she throws the Cognitive Kill Switch: derail the conversation away from the uncomfortable, and make it about the individual’s identity. In this case it is in support of Viola’s identity, but that’s irrelevant, what matters is that it is no longer about the uncomfortable topic.
3. Why is this on The Daily Beast? See #1 above. The point is to make Theron the focus, feature her as an idiot to distract from the question. Theron becomes the example of this racial ignorance, a privileged white woman who could never understand what it’s like– talk about her. But Theron isn’t the one casting movies or deciding public interest.
If Davis had voiced her complaint and Theron said nothing, then this clip wouldn’t exist because there’d be no point in airing it.
4. Oddly, in a discussion of hotness, it never occurs to anyone to dare to say this: “There is an entire group of men who would much rather have sex with Viola Davis than Charlize Theron.” Why doesn’t this even occur to Viola to say?
Because those men don’t count– including to Viola Davis. She has been convinced that her worth depends on another audience. “But that’s where the money is, movies that most people go to see.” Yet most people aren’t seeing The Help, most people are seeing Ironman, but she isn’t trying to get a part in that. She wants parts that appeal specifically to middle aged white women. Think about this.
5. I hope it is understood that The Oscars are a con game. The Academy isn’t peer review, it is the Republican National Committee. Backroom deals, money, meet-and-greets.
Actors know this, but must act as if the Oscars are legitimate. They buy into the Ponzi scheme because their industry agrees to accept the Oscars as meaningful, and so they are. So Davis wants an Oscar, I get it. But when she complains that White Hollywood doesn’t have “good roles” for blacks, she means Oscar worthy roles; this perpetuates the construction that the Oscars signify value.
This is another reason why this clip is present in the Oscar Roundtable. They’re willing to be thought of as racists, as long as you accept they are racists whose judgement matters.
6. Awards and box office aside, one mark of a truly good movie would be its ability to give a universal truth. The question is: in what way can a black actor be used to convey a universal truth?