By Joshua D. Copeland
Actresses Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis sit down with other A-List actresses to discuss their roles responsible for their Emmy nominations. But within their experiences, these actresses had to battle internal conflicts with stereotypes, typecasting and assumptions of how their roles would reflect them as people.
When Viola Davis shares her experience as the lead role of ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” the fact that she had never seen a role played by an older Black woman terrified her.
“I had no precedence for this role. I had never seen a 49-year-old, dark-skinned woman who is not a size 2 be a sexualized role in TV or film,”
While this fact weighed on her confidence to play the role, she talked about how an epiphany led to the realization of a new opportunity.
“This is your moment to not typecast yourself. To actually play a woman who is sexualized, and actually do your work as an actor, your investigative work to find out who this woman is. And woman up, and put a real woman on TV that’s smack dab in the mists of this pop fiction.”
Davis continued, “I’m gonna have to accept the fact that people are gonna look at me and say ‘ I have no idea why they casted her in a role like this.”
Henson went through a similar experience. Her role as Cookie on Fox’s “Empire” was uncomfortable and challenging.
“Cookie scared the hell out of me,” she admits. “People are going to get pissed off. Cookie is so bigger than life. It could go either way. Either you love her or hate her.”
But when it is all said and done, Henson like Davis resorted to relying on the creativity that is their craft. Henson explains that acting is a powerful art form that can bring people out of their comfort zone as it did her.
“Art is so powerful. And I felt like the subject matter that this product dealt with is something that we’ve never seen on primetime network television. And if we do it well, then it’s going to force people to have conversations that they are afraid to have. That’s what art is supposed to do in my opinion.”
The odds shattered by these two actresses provides an important lesson: That they are artists at the end of it all. Regardless of the fact that they are people of color, they want to be remembered by their works of acting.
Congratulations Taraji and Viola! Good luck at the Emmys!