I know I've gone on and on about Viola Davis this year. It's no secret that I'm rooting for her in Best Actress. She's such an enormous talent and such an interesting woman and she keeps on reminding me of of both of those truths in different revealing ways this year. (I'm really going to be disheartened if The Help doesn't lead to better and bigger things. I don't want to see her play one more lame anyone could do this "best friend to the heroine" part like in Eat Pray Love.) Thanks to Mark Harris for pointing out this new interview from the Tavis Smiley show on PBS and thanks to Tavis Smiley for starting with the rough stuff. He basically begins by telling the actresses that though he is rooting for them he is uncomfortable about awarding black women for playing maids some 73 years after Hattie McDaniel's Gone With the Wind win and he was also uncomfortable with Denzel Washington's win a decade ago for playing a dirty cop in Training Day. The stars and the host really get into it (respectfully). Here's Viola's take.
That mindset... is absolutely destroying the black artist. The black artist cannot live in a revisionist place. The black artist can only tell the truth about humanity. Humanity is messy. People are messy. Caucasian actors know that. They understand that. They understand that when you bring a human being to life you show all the flaws as well as the beauty. We, as African American artists, are more concerned with image and message and not execution. Which is why every time you see our images they've been watered down to a point where they are not realistic at all. It's like all of our humanity has been washed out. We as artists cannot be politicians. We as artists can only be truth tellers.
The conversation blossoms from there. They talk August Wilson. They talk Fences. They talk Red Tails. They talk about acting as baton passing. It's great stuff and nobody pulls any punches.
Octavia's late interview response about the difficulty of convincing Hollywood to bankroll more black projects takes a nice turn, too.
Let me tell you the other thing. It begins with the ticket buyer. Dee Rees wrote an amazing film called Pariah. And if you haven't paid to see it at a theater near you, you're part of the problem.
It's inspiring that some people, and people as visible as Meryl Streep and these two, have singled out Pariah for praise. It's just too bad the movie had such extremely limited distribution and too bad it was saved until the one weekend of the year when no one would be able to pay it any attention during the Oscar glut. But bygones. It's one of my favorite pictures of last year and I'm hoping it gets a better life on DVD.
The complete interview which I've embedded after the jump is well worth a watch if you have half an hour.
I was so riveted I'm thinking I have to see more of Tavis Smiley's show if he always sparks this much thoughtful conversation.