It’s been a mammoth year for Viola Davis, from swiping up an Emmy to getting nominated for another, from landing a part in the super-villain picture Suicide Squad and besting it on top of that–and it’s not as though she gets to slow down.
First and foremost, Davis is starring once more for her third year as decorated defense attorney Annalise Keating on ABC’s hit How to Get Away With Murder. It’s a show that has, so far, boosted Davis’s career and repertoire more in the star-ward direction an actress of her ability deserves. But of course, it’s thanks to Shonda Rhimes as well, who has cultivated yet another successful black-female-led series in this show.
It’s exactly that, the roles for black women in Hollywood, that Davis is continuing to fight the good fight for. She spoke on how uncommon parts like Annalise are for women with dark skin in a Deadline interview today.
Davis, alongside fellow Shondaland lead actress Kerry Washington, are both examples and patrons of black women finding their gold in the Hollywood riverbed–that is, to say, there was barely any gold during the California Gold Rush, and there aren’t too many non-slave and non-maid roles for women of color either, nor lead roles, despite what some studio heads attempt to suggest.
“We’re trying to pick a seat at the table and be part of the solution,” says Davis. The HTGAWM star refers to Empire on Fox as another example of shows doing right by black women, giving them a chance to be icons of acting power rather than the backdrop, if they’re even there at all. Still, Davis points to a major issue plaguing black actresses that set them even further apart than their white female counterparts in Hollywood–being underpaid.
“We have Taraji P. Henson, who’s been out there for well over twentysomething years. I’ve been out there for 30 years,” she continues. “You have people like Alfre Woodard who have been out there for 40 years, S. Epatha Merkerson who was on Law & Order, she’s probably been out there for well over 40 years. You know, there are people who’ve been putting in the work. They trained, they studied the classics, they’ve done the theater, you know?”
She wants to be challenged, and if Hollywood wouldn’t do that for her, then Davis was going to fill in the gaps where she could. This season of HTGAWM, for instance, is going to raise the bar on its intensity and mystery than its predecessors.
“This year, we’re totally stumped,” says Davis, referring to the mystery set before the season as the shell story that the plot will lead up to and reveal. The lead actress also says that there will be new students joining the Keating Five in their bloody foils, which will undoubtedly shake events up immensely.
Davis is also waist-deep in producing movies like a picture about Harriet Tubman, as well as a film about Barbara Jordan the Civil Rights leader, and a movie about an African tribe of women called Amazon. All will feature women of color as the stars.
“We are trying to just serve a set of people that have been under-served, who are seeking their own images on screen and in narratives, but I don’t think it’s exclusive,” says Davis. “I think it’s inclusive to do that.”