What Charlize Theron Doesn't Get About Black Hollywood

Daily Beast columnist Allison Samuels argues that the actress's suggestion that Viola Davis be more positive while discussing the plight of black actresses in Hollywood is emblematic of an intractable problem.

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Charlize Theron and Viola Davis (John Shearer/Getty Images)

In her column at the Daily Beast, Allison Samuels examines Charlize Theron's seemingly harmless comment to Viola Davis to "stop saying that" in response to Davis' comments about the difficulty of finding roles in Hollywood. By suggesting that it would make a big difference if Davis changed her attitude, Theron highlights an intractable problem that has dogged black women in Hollywood ad infinitum.

Charlize Theron surely meant no harm. The actress genuinely thought she was complimenting fellow thespian Viola Davis during this year’s Newsweek Oscar roundtable when she told Davis, “You’re hot as shit."

Their exchange revolved around Davis’s comments on finding work as an African-American actress. Davis, who has won praise for her starring role in The Help, was attempting to explain the difficult plight of being black and female in the movie industry. “I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time,” said Davis.

No doubt hoping to forge a sisterly bond, Theron rushed in to reassure Davis that she was indeed “hot’’ and naively implied that a simple change of attitude would make a world of difference. Her exact words -- “You have to stop saying that, because you’re hot as shit.’’

How sweet of Theron to say, and how thoroughly misguided and offensive as well. Davis was honestly confronting a number of painful and complicated issues faced by many women of color in Hollywood today -- issues Theron (who was born in South Africa to parents of European descent) more than likely has never encountered and would have done well to listen to. The Oscar roundtable was the perfect forum for such a discussion, and yet Theron’s verbal charity managed to downplay the importance of Davis’s point. What difference does it make if Davis stops speaking a truth if the reality remains?

Read Allison Samuel's entire column at the Daily Beast.

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