Viola Davis Just Nailed the Problem With Sex on Screen

January 19th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Viola Davis is known for being outspoken about sexism and racism in Hollywood, as well as speaking out to victims of sexual assault and sharing her own moving story at a Los Angeles benefit last year.

In a recent interview with ELLE, the "How To Get Away With Murder" star opened up about sexism in the entertainment industry and the double standards that determine how sex is portrayed on screen.

"We've been fed a whole slew of lies about women," Davis said. On television, "if you are anywhere above a size 2, you're not having sex. You don't have sexual thoughts. You may not even have a vagina. And if you're of a certain age, you're off the table."

This is something many women in Hollywood have spoken out about in the past.

On "How To Get Away With Murder," Davis plays Annalise Keating, a brilliant, morally complicated lawyer who takes charge in the courtroom –and the bedroom.

The other cover stars of the magazine's Women In TV issue were “Empire"'s Taraji P. Henson, Priyanka Chopra of “Quantico,” "Veep"'s Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) and Olivia Wilde, star of HBO's forthcoming series “Vinyl,” each expressed their grievances with the industry's skewed expectations for female stars.

Henson, who recently accepted a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama series, echoed Davis' sentiments, explaining that the role of Cookie Lyon allowed her to create a character that went beyond Hollywood's stereotypes for Black leading ladies.

"It was very important to me that she not be sassy and neck-rollin' and eye-bulgin' and attitude all the time," Henson told the magazine. "Everything she does is coming from a place of fighting for her family. That's why she's not a caricature."

Last year, Davis dedicated her Emmy to her fellow Black actresses, using her acceptance speech to address diversity in the entertainment industry.

"The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity," Davis said, "You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be Black."

In a 2014 profile with The New York Times Magazine, Davis expanded on the problem with racism and ageism in Hollywood, explaining that she wanted to be a role model for black actresses and show that Black women over 40 are just as capable of playing dynamic leading ladies.

“I see the kind of work that needs to be put out there in order to make change." She said. "Do I think there is a crisis for women over 40, too? Absolutely. But a 25-year-old white actress who is training at Yale or Juilliard or SUNY Purchase or N.Y.U. today can look at a dozen white actresses who are working over age 40 in terrific roles. You can’t say that for a lot of young Black girls. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”