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How Is It Possible That The Help Is Viola Davis' First Leading Role?

By Rob Payne | Videos | January 27, 2012 |

By Rob Payne | Videos | January 27, 2012 |

Newsweek really asks the brave questions, don’t they?

First it was “Why are Obama’s critics so dumb?” (Which is actually worth a read despite the unfortunate cover.) And now during the magazine’s annual Oscar Roundtable, writer Ramin Setoodeh (next to longtime film critic David Ansen) asks Viola Davis, a black actress who has worked in Hollywood for 16 years, why she’s never had a leading role in a major motion picture before 2011’s The Help ? That movie, as we know, asked the equally brave question, How can we possibly get beyond racism if good, rich white people do nothing?

Setoodeh should look far more embarassed than he does for incredulously asking a question with such a blatantly obvious answer. Not that the question itself, in the grand scheme of Hollywood films and the industry’s history, isn’t fair game and in need of being asked (continuously until it no longer needs to be asked), but he just comes off as clueless here. Of course, so does Charlize Theron, who joined Davis on a panel that included George Clooney, Tilda SWINTON(!), Michael Fasschlongbender, and Christopher Plummer. Theron interrupts Davis’ initial attempt to discuss the issue of race and gender in studio products, and this exchange follows:

Davis: “There just aren’t a lot of roles for — I mean, I’m a 46-year-old black actress who doesn’t look like Halle Berry — and Halle Berry is having a hard time. You know there’s not a lot of leading roles.”
Theron: “I’m going to have to stop you there for a second.”
Davis: “Why, you think I look like Halle Berry?”
Theron: “No. You have to stop saying that because you are hot as shit. You look amazing.”

In spite of both her interviewer and one of her interlocutors missing the point entirely, Davis is a professional and eventually answers with that obvious answer: “[T]here’s just not a lot of roles for women who look like me.” And that cuts both ways, as a woman and as an African American, she’s completely off the board when it comes to reaching my demographic of 15-35 year-old white males. According to studio executives, anyway. (Note to them: I didn’t see The Help because it looked like shit, and that’s in spite of having Emma Stone with a southern accent, and everything I read about it after its release confirmed that, but I’ve enjoyed Davis’ work since Out of Sight, so get your heads out of your collective asses, thank you.)

In the video below, the exchange occurs within the first minute, followed by some batting around of the names of since-faded starlets who lit up the screen before there was a Roles for Women Problem in the movies, and then Clooney pretty much takes over the conversation, laying it all out for people to understand, even as apparently dense as Setoodeh and Theron.

(via The Dish)

Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, his ware can be purchased here (if you’re into that sort of thing). He’s pretty sure Clooney is giving the filmgoing audience a lot of slack, after all, they made Transformers 3 a billion dollar success.

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