Is Denzel Washington Right to Tell His Dark Skinned Daughter to Work Harder?
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Denzel Washington said that the best advice he has given to his aspiring actress daughter Olivia is, ‘You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat…You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage. That’s the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act.’
The Academy award winning actor went on to say, ‘Look at Viola Davis. That’s who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you’re relying on that, when you hit 40, you’re out the door. You better have some chops.’
And somewhere across this planet, Viola Davis is like, “Gheez, thanks a lot Denzel!” But that’s the thing about Denzel. Even if it was meant as a back-handed slam against Davis, which I doubt it was, nobody would say anything because it is Denzel we’re talking about. He can do or say no wrong. However was he right to tell his daughter that she would have to work harder because of the color of her skin or is he just setting her for a lifetime of victimhood?
As famous parents go, you could not be as better situated than being the child of Denzel and Paulette Washington. Award winning actor, who was recently dubbed one of People Magazine’s sexiest men alive, Denzel should have the professional pull and connections needed to get Olivia at least started in a career in Hollywood. At the very least a Dark & Lovely No Lye Relaxer commercial on BET should be in her future. Or maybe not. Maybe everything we all suspected about Hollywood’s race and gender relations is true. I mean, it is no wonder that Halle Berry, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, three women with lighter skin and more Caucasian features, top the list of the most sought after black stars. Even darker hued stars like Kim Wayans, Regina King and even super producer It-Girl Shonda Rhimes have all commented on the scarcities of black roles given to black actresses in general.
And let’s not forgot that only in Hollywood, would it seem okay for Zoe Saldana to portray Nina Simone. Not that Saldana is not a capable actress but Simone’s dark skin and African features were the essence of her public and personal identity. SO much so that she actually wrote songs about it. So slapping some dark foundation and a prosthetic nose on any ole’ black woman without concern of continuity to the subject matter, just screams of whitewashing. Maybe I’m wrong. But until we see Idris Elba or Djimon Hounsou play Jesus Christ in The Temptation of Christ Part 2, I will always have my doubts.
But this is the untold truth of what it is like living under white supremacy. And in this regard, Washington is right to prepare his children for the realities of our society. It’s the same advice that black parents have been giving their children for hundreds of years. So you want to make partner at your prestigious law firm, be prepared to work ten times harder than your white colleagues because you are black. And you want to make a name for yourself in the business world, well be prepared to compromise on a lot of your cultural identity. Want to be the next (formerly the first) black president, be prepared to eat lots of racial Isht, while baring and grinning, in the process.
At the same time, I’m sick of living and abiding by that world. I’m tired of telling our children to submit and to accept the idea that subjugation is a permanent state, in which they are powerless to change it. I would have preferred that his public message of advice for his daughter was that she was loved and supported. And that her talent and beauty is bigger than the status quo, therefore there is no need to continue to support in any capacity a system that devalues, ignores and misrepresents your image.
That’s what I would prefer him to say. But it is Denzel and he can do no wrong.