Annalise Keating is one of Viola Davis’ most iconic roles, however, there were people who thought she wasn’t fit to play the lead due to her looks. How to Get Away with Murder showed Viola as an intelligent, yet, very flawed woman who faced many obstacles due to her race, gender, and also her alcohol addiction. And while we can all agree that the mother of one played the hell out of that character, she faced judgment as soon as she was cast for the Shonda Rhimes produced drama.
In a profile for the New York Times, the 56-year-old recalled the time a friend told her that she overheard several Black actors and actresses say that “she wasn’t pretty enough” to pull off the role after it was announced she was cast. While the Oscar winner has endured racism and colorism before, that particular moment was something that she just “couldn’t shake.” The Juilliard grad grew up in Rhode Island and faced many hardships, which she will be detailing in her book Finding Me: A Memoir, even though she may be facing similar criticisms that she dealt with as a child, she now knows how to use her voice.
In a 2020 Vanity Fairinterview, Viola, who is one award away from reaching EGOT status, reflected on what it was like growing up as a dark-skinned girl. “When I was younger, I did not exert my voice because I did not feel worthy of having a voice,” she said. She credited her sisters and her mother for helping her find her way. “[They] looked at me and said I was pretty,” she said.
“Who’s telling a dark-skinned girl that she’s pretty? Nobody says it. I’m telling you, Sonia (interviewer) nobody says it. The dark-skinned Black woman’s voice is so steeped in slavery and our history. If we did speak up, it would cost us our lives. Somewhere in my cellular memory was still that feeling—that I do not have the right to speak up about how I’m being treated, that somehow I deserve it. I did not find my worth on my own.”
And although she still sometimes struggles with speaking up, when she does use her voice, she makes sure she is advocating for herself and the women like her. In 2016, Viola opened up to The Cut about redefining beauty. “Just like we have to redefine strength, we have to redefine beauty,” she said.
“It’s not even about beautiful, it’s about being who you are. It’s about being honest. It’s about stepping into This is how I am in private, this is how I look, this is how I act, this is my mess, this is my strength, this is my beauty, this is my intelligence, and then putting it out there that this is who I am.”
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