Viola Davis: Don’t Use “Dignity” to Describe Black Actresses

November 14, 2011  |  


The Hollywood Reporter recently talked with Viola Davis about her role in The Help, but when she was asked her thoughts on one critic’s observation that she brought “dignity” to her character, the seasoned actress said she doesn’t care much for that word as it is applied to black actresses. Davis added:

“I love and hate the word ‘dignity.’ I feel it’s overused for black actresses, as with ‘sassy’ and ‘soulful.’ I can go on. The same adjectives are pulled out of a magic box. That’s who she is in the book. My job was to create her.

I agree with Viola Davis. Bringing dignity to her character suggests the real woman didn’t have any in the first place, and I could go on for days about the use of the word sassy describing black women, whether on and off camera, every time they state their opinion about something.

Diva is another word I could pass on for colorful black women. What are some words you’re sick of hearing people use to describe black actresses? Or even black women in general?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Ladyscholar03

    Grown. It just gets under my skin!

  • Elegance

    Where do I begin? Sassy, independent, strong, diva, ghetto, ghettofabulous, anything that implies attitude or masculine traits. We really need to change the way we define ourselves. Other women rarely use these terms. 

  • yanez

    That’s why I wish black actors and actresses could stay away from such stereotypical roles in film.  When I saw the ads for The Help, I immediately cringed.  I hear people going on about how good the book was, but…you know what… I could care less how good the book was.  Black actors and actresses always get rewarded for taking on stereotypes in film and I am pretty tired of it. Of course the reporter used the word dignity as though people who actually lived those lives had none. That’s part of the stereotypical fantasies of Hollywood and society overall.

  • ScoutF

    “strong black woman”……………tired

    • astodghill

      So TRUE!  This — I get called all the time. It makes me so angry.

  • claw

    ‘Well Spoken’  irks the mess out of me.

  • I can remember when Black models were called EXOTIC instead of just saying they were BEAUTIFUL! You just get sick of the foolishness that comes at you at ALL times!!!