Why Viola Davis is calling out Hollywood’s “nice” women

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Susan Devaney
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The Oscar-winning actress has had enough of the lack of diversity and movie roles for women.  

Viola Davis has played some incredible female characters – from Rose Maxson in Fences to Aibileen Clark in The Help – on the big screen.

Now, she’s set to play Veronica Rawlins in Widows, the leader of a gang of widows who must pull off a heist in order to pay off their husbands’ debts to a drug dealer.

The film, written by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen, stars Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo and Elizabeth Debicki and looks set to be a female-driven hit.

But, more importantly, Davis is playing the lead – a role not usually given to her.

“This kind of role isn’t usually out there for a woman of colour,” the Oscar winner told Variety. “People try to be too nice with women. They keep them pretty. They keep them likable. They cater to male fantasies. They cater to the male gaze. This film didn’t do that.”

Such opportunities are not usually given to women of colour in Hollywood. So much so, that the character of Veronica Rawlins was originally written for a white actress.

It’s this topic that leads Davis to address the gender pay gap in Hollywood. Earlier this year, Michelle Williams hit the headlines after she was paid significantly less than her male co-star, Mark Wahlberg in All The Money In The World. But Davis stresses that it’s even worse for women of colour.

“There are no percentages to show the difference,” says Davis, highlighting that there’s a huge wage difference between white women’s salaries to that of ethnic minorities. “It’s vast. Hispanic women, Asian women, black women, we don’t get paid what Caucasian women get paid. We just don’t. … We have the talent. It’s the opportunity that we’re lacking.”

But the opportunity to play such a cool and complex character like Rawlins is one Davis cherishes (as she’s tired of “nice” women on screen). Not only does she play lead, but director Steve McQueen insisted on her keeping her natural afro on screen, too. 

Davis picked up an Oscar for her performance in Fences 

“You’re always taught as a person of colour to not like your hair,” Davis says, explaining that wearing her natural hair has been liberating. “The kinkier it is, the so-called nappier it is, the uglier it is.”

She continued: “We’re into a zeitgeist where people are fighting for their space to be seen. People have to know that there are different types of women of colour. We’re not all Foxy Brown. We’re not all brown or light-skinned beauties with a big afro. We have the girl next door. We have the older, dark-skinned, natural-haired woman.”

Widows is due to be aired in cinemas from 16 November.

Images: Getty