In early January, Viola Davis vented her frustration at the uphill battle Black women face in getting recognition in Hollywood. Now, after Davis was overlooked for an Oscar nomination this week, that clip is sadly finding relevance again online.
Davis starred in the 2022 historical film The Woman King, which followed the Agojie, an all-female military unit in the Kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin, Africa). The real-life group are so legendary that they provided the inspiration for the Dora Milaje in the Black Panther comics and films.
But despite box office and critical success, the film’s lead, Viola Davis, was snubbed by the Oscars. In fact, there are no Black women nominated in the Best Actress category this year, and the Best Director category is full of men.
Now a clip of Davis talking about the struggle that Black films, particularly films about Black women, face in Hollywood is making the rounds again.
Well this aged well…
Viola deserved a Best Actress nomination.
— LaDarrion Williams (@ItsLaDarrion) January 24, 2023
Speaking to a round table of filmmakers for The Hollywood Reporter, Davis said, “Everything is a fight, and I’ll tell you the ultimate fight…you have a film, The Woman King, based on the Agojie tribe, and it’s got to be test screened and it’s got to mean something to white males, white females, and Black males. It doesn’t matter if it’s reaching 98% of Black females.”
“So how do you reach the white male audience?” she continued. “And how do you make people feel like, if I can’t reach the white male audience, it doesn’t mean that the movie can’t have some commercial value?”
The Woman King, as it turned out, did have commercial value, garnering over $90 million worldwide. It also received four nominations for the Critics’ Choice Awards. But all of that was apparently not enough for the Motion Picture Academy.
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And The Woman King isn’t the only film led by a predominately Black female cast that was snubbed this year: Till received zero nominations. “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women,” Till director Chinonye Chukwu wrote on Instagram the day the nominations were announced.
When listening to the clip, it might sound like Davis is predicting the future. In fact, the Oscar snub is part of long-established history. Halle Berry is the only Black woman to have ever won Best Actress, and that was way back in 2002. Additionally, a Black woman has never been nominated for Best Director. It begs the question that if The Woman King and Till were not good enough, what film will be?