When you see a chocolate-complexioned actress on TV in a complex and sexualized role, clap for that woman and whoever cast her, Viola Davis argues, because dark-brown women have to contend with the colorism hurdle just to land quality roles, the Academy Award nominee revealed during an interview with The Wrap.
"The paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking," Davis said plainly.
Hollywood simply does not view dark-brown actresses as women who are desirable by men, she says.
"That's the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn't be in the realm of anything that men should desire," Davis explained.
And that, she argues, is what makes her character on How to Get Away With Murder, Annalise Keating, that much more powerful, historic and shocking.
"And in the history of television and even in film, I've never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me. My age, my hue, my sex," Davis said. "She is a woman who absolutely culminates the full spectrum of humanity: our askew sexuality, our askew maternal instincts. She's all of that, and she's a dark-skin black woman."
Davis says that Keating has no predecessors when it comes to portraying a chocolate-complexioned woman with all of the different layers that make women, well, women. Instead, dark-brown actresses are usually typecast as demeaning characters in society.
"But I encourage you to search your memory and think of anyone who's done this," she said. "It just hasn't happened. I hear these stories from friends of mine who are dark-skin actresses who are always being seen as crack addicts and prostitutes."
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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.