Viola Davis responds to racist NYT article by quoting Maya Angelou


Here are some photos from the premiere event for all of Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland productions, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. As you can see, Kerry Washington, Ellen Pompeo and Viola Davis posed together on the red carpet. Such lovely leading ladies! The only designer ID I have is on Kerry’s dress, which is Mary Katrantzou. The dress is pretty but I want to tweak Kerry’s look a little bit. I want to give her a side part and maybe some bright lipstick, I think. But I love Viola’s whole look. That’s a woman who can rock the hell out of fuchsia.

As you can imagine, people are still talking about the NYT “think piece” about how Shonda Rhimes is an “angry black woman” who writes angry black female characters who are so mean, angry and black, of course. One of the most insulting parts of an already terrible article was when Alessandra Stanley wrote, in reference to Viola Davis: “Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series ‘Extant.’” UGH I HATE YOU. Viola Davis is beautiful. BEAUTIFUL, I say. Anyway, Viola’s on Twitter now and this is what she wrote in response to the NYT piece:

Yep. Viola is everything. What’s also interesting to note is that less than a week before Stanley’s piece was published, the NYT did a very interesting interview with Viola where she talked a lot about being marginalized in roles that often seem like stereotypes and racist stock characters. Viola told the NYT:

“I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish,” she said. “A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You’re going to get your three or four scenes, you’re not going to be able to show what you can do. You’re going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you’re going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That’s the truth.”

[From The NYT]

By the way, I would totally recommend everyone read that NYT interview with Viola. It’s a wonderful piece and I wish I had covered it last week, but I only saw it for the first time this weekend. After reading it, I kind of wonder if Alessandra Stanley glanced through Viola’s interview and thought, “Oh, she’s talking about racist tropes in Hollywood, that’s given me a great idea for a think piece about how she’s an angry black woman.”



Photos courtesy of WENN.

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76 Responses to “Viola Davis responds to racist NYT article by quoting Maya Angelou”

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  1. Tiffany27 says:

    Viola is flawless. It truly pisses me off that she doesn’t get more work.

    • Jess G. says:

      I agree completely. She’s an amazing actress. And her being in this almost makes me want to watch TV.

      And I don’t get the use of the words ‘classically beautiful’ — they’re all gorgeous woman. What exactly is a ‘classically beautiful’ woman supposed to look like?

      • Tiffany27 says:

        Idk. That whole damn article was a mess.

      • T.C. says:


        Classically beautiful usually refers to having European features or as close to it as possible: light skin, small facially features, very slim body, extra points for any eye color besides Brown , appeals to white men. Examples: Rihanna, Halle Berry, Kerry Washington, Beyoncé, etc. Viola brought this strange beauty standard up at an Oscar Roundtable a few years back.

      • Sozual says:

        All the women you mentioned don’t look white. Thin lips, blue eyes, blonde hair, and a pointy nose are stereotypical white features. All those women have full lips and big cheek bones and flat noses. The black women are beautiful and the classically beautiful reference is just a term to try and tie pretty black women to those white feature stereotypes. Fact is the white women that are considered gorgeous look black. Michelle Pfeiffer, Jolie, and Kidman. In definitely everyone looks black no matter what features they have, because man kind began in East Africa.

      • VuDu says:

        @ Sozual: in what world do women like Phieffer & Kidman embody the physical aspects of being black? Those two are prime examples of the stereotypical Caucasian features you described!

        On a different note, I was wondering if you could back up the statement that all of mankind began in East Africa? (No snark intended – I’ve never heard that before & now I’m curious!)

    • Pinky says:

      Viola Davis should have won the Best Supporting Actress Award that year. Her character had dignity and she acted the heck out of that role.

      What this Stanley character doesn’t get is that not a single Shonda-penned pilot defines the characters with racial designations. Actors of any ethnicity can audition for any part. May the best actor win (and in some cases, a male-specific part has gone to a woman). The piece minimized not only Shonda’s accomplishments (and reduced her to being a stereotype), but also nullified the talents of each and every actor on her shows who fought tooth and nail to win those roles through sheer grit, tenacity, and ability, and nothing whatsoever to do with race.

      • Ag says:

        that is so, so cool re the color-blind (and sometimes gender-blind) casting.

        i don’t watch any of her shows (don’t have the attention span for any long-running shows, sadly), but they are insanely popular for a reason. from what i have heard from friends, they have interesting, well-developed characters who aren’t one-dimensional.

        the NYT needs to control its ignorant writers better.

      • Livealot says:

        Fantastic point

    • Alex says:

      I think she, like Octavia Spencer, are just now peaking. So hopefully they continue to get more challenging work. And I love it because they are both spectacular. I’m ready to tune in every week to watch both on screen.

      • BlackBrooklynQueen says:

        Just peaking? Viola Davis has paid her dues and should be offered the same type of roles that boring, overrated white actresses are getting! Was The Help the first time YOU notice her?

      • Alex says:

        Uh no but thanks for the assumption. By Hollywood standards they are at the height of their careers hence the “peaking” comment.

      • MW says:

        The first time I noticed Viola Davis was in “The Help”, but the ONLY reason was, I NEVER go to the movies, nor do I check out a lot of new TV shows, and I don’t know who many actors are. I loved her in that movie and because of it I will never forget her. I read about her new TV show recently that she is going to star in, and now I am waiting for this Thursday night to watch it!

    • Alec says:

      Viola Davis is my favorite actress. I think she is very charismatic in a Tom Hanks way (you can send her to the moon and desert island, people care about her getting back home safely). She is absolutely beautiful and classy. The NYT disgusts me.

      If you mess with Viola Davis you are going to see an angry white woman!

      • Wilma says:

        Yes, she has blown me away in every role I have seen her in and so often I think a movie would have benefited from giving Viola Davis the lead. There aren’t many actresses this good and real on screen. When you think you want to cast Julia Robert, just cast Viola instead please.

    • djork says:

      To the NY Times (and Hollywood, advertisers and the like), “classically beautiful” is code for light-skinned caramel-colored women with small features, tumbly, long straight hair who do not threaten the mass populace with their gorgeous Negritude.

  2. Kiddo says:

    Maybe the stupid NYT article is creating more buzz in a backward way.

    • denisemich says:

      Nope. The article was really about Shonda Rhimes and how Scandal is about a mad black woman. But it really was racist because Dr. Dreamy must also be a Mad Black woman. Shonda owns and writes for both Scandal and Grey’s.

      So surprised NYT published that story. It used to be known as a very liberal newspaper.

      • Kiddo says:

        It’s been trending downhill for a while, I hate to say it.

      • andypandy says:

        Sometimes liberals tend to more casual racists which is sometimes worse that the straight out right winger who at least you can see coming and know what to expect

      • Kiddo says:

        The NYT hasn’t actually been ‘liberal’ for some time. They promoted the war in Iraq. They pander to the wealthy and the trend pieces have everything to do with the 1%.

      • TheOriginalKitten says:

        I’m not sure that calling someone an “angry black woman” qualifies as casual racism.

      • denisemich says:

        What is casual racism?

        I used to have a subscription to NYT that I recently canceled and I am now so glad.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      When I heard the story this weekend, I grabbed my remote and set SERIES RECORDING for this show.

      I don’t care what the NYT has to say. I am going to tune into hear the stories these women have to tell me.

  3. Abbott says:

    Is her show any good?

  4. Lucy2 says:

    Viola is the best, and here has stood up for herself in the most beautiful way.

    • red_jane says:

      I agree, it’s so refreshing to see a celeb rise above with such dignity.
      And she is freaking gorgeous, not many people could pull off that fuchsia, but she kills it!

  5. stellalovejoydiver says:

    I am still baffled the NYT did publish this piece of garbage.

    • Tanguerita says:

      same here. Stanley is an entitled b—ch, but it’s rich even for her. I’m all for the freedom of speech, but this woman clearly overstepped all the boundaries with this article and should be let go.

      • FingerBinger says:

        A person should lose their job because they wrote something you think is racist and something you disagree with? You either believe in freedom of speech or you don’t.

      • BendyWindy says:

        I think people are wondering how she has a job with a reputable newspaper, when she often (not just this once) writes factually incorrect articles. That’s Journalism 101, and in this digital age where all the knowledge in the world is at your fingertips, it’s lazy and unprofessional.

      • lucy2 says:

        I’m not seeing this as a freedom of speech issue at all.
        As a representative of a major media outlet, she wrote a piece that reeked of racism, has gained a lot of negative attention, and was poorly researched and lacking in basic facts. If the NYT feels that reflects badly enough on them, they absolutely could let the writer go. Or they could choose to stand by her and keep her.

      • FingerBinger says:

        Then she should be fired because she’s a crappy journalist not because she wrote something that is considered controversial. Another thing, if the article is poorly researched the NYT may not want to acknowledge their own mistakes, since these articles are supposed to be proofread and fact checked.

      • inthekitchen says:

        @FingerBinger — freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want. It doesn’t, however, protect you from the consequences of your speech. If you work for a company and say something they – or the readers, in this case – don’t like, you can be fired.

        And, that isn’t a violation of anyone’s free speech. I hate when people don’t get that!

    • Brittney B says:

      Me too. Beyond the obvious racism and delusion, it was just plain wrong; Shonda Rimes didn’t even create this show, or this character. She’s just producing it. See my comment farther down about Melissa Harris Perry… I wish I could find her clip online, because her coverage of this piece was beautiful.

    • Eleonor says:

      There are tons of bloggers out there who are better than her.

  6. Renee says:

    I LOVE that Viola doesn’t mince words when it comes to racism in Hollywood. She looks great in that berry color too.

  7. truthSF says:

    I want Ellen’s jumper, it’s so pretty.

  8. als says:

    If you compare Alessandra Stanley’s words with Viola’s in NYT you understand the parts they play exactly: Stanley eats shit, Viola makes shit happen. It’s not even a contest.
    Stanley’s piece just geared some more free publicity. Other than that, except for the fact that she’s a terrible writer (she complements Shonda’s original characters while in the same time offending the actresses that portray them and Shonda herself), it’s nothing there.

  9. Brittney B says:

    Melissa Harris Perry did something AMAZING on her show yesterday. She “performed” several paragraphs of the New York Times piece, but she substituted “angry black woman” with “angry white man” and “Shonda Rimes” with “Aaron Sorkin”.

    Alllll the examples were incredibly spot-on, and she killed it. It so perfectly illustrated the racism inherent in discussions like this one, and the fact that people with privilege (especially white men) can do the same. exact. things. as people without privilege, yet their identities don’t have to revolve around stereotypes.

    She also quoted from Shonda’s Twitter, and her response was hilarious. She DIDN’T create the show — a white man did — and the author just made an assumption and ran with it. I’m so done with the NYT at this point.

      • Tiffany27 says:

        MHP is awesome and just demonstrated PERFECTLY how ridiculous that NYT piece was. Thanks for this!

      • TheOriginalKitten says:

        Excellent. She breaks it down.

      • Frida_K says:

        Beautiful! Everyone at NYT should be compelled to watch this and the idiot that wrote the piece and the moron who approved it should sit down and have an on-camera discussion with Harris-Perry. She SCHOOLED them.

      • Ag says:

        thanks! will watching it at home (my work blocks all video). MHP is great.

      • Senna says:

        That was amazing! The point that this piece hammers home is that this sort of commentary tells us literally nothing about the actual characters, plot, or show. What does it illuminate to discuss how the male characters represent the idea of “angry white male-ness?” What does it tell us to describe one scene in which the fact that they are angry about something is literally the only thing being discussed? It doesn’t tell us anything at all, and neither does an “analysis” of the ways in which Shonda’s characters fit the stereotype of the “angry black woman,” or the fact that sometimes they are angry about things.

        Thanks for the link!

    • Wilma says:

      Yes, this is what angers me: when you’re a black woman you know that getting angry would make a lot of people see you as this stereotype. Even if your anger is completely justified, even if every white person would be seen as ‘brave’ or ‘righteous’ when getting angry in the exact same situation. It pisses me of that Viola Davis has every reason to be angry, but probably keeps her anger in check because she is a black woman. I mean, I like her response, but I would have gotten pretty angry with a news outlet that interviewed me a week earlier and then put out this article and I’m wondering of she feels free to be angry in public.

      • Annie says:

        Women of any color aren’t allowed to be “angry” or we are classified as a B@tch.

      • DebR says:

        This is My Life (black woman in IT; prior military in electronics). If a guy did it, he has passion; me, I’m just an ABW…..

        God, I feel like at least someone gets it.

  10. Victoria 1 says:

    Viola looks amazing in that magenta dress, she can pull off the colors I cant

  11. Ag says:

    ms. davis truly is a phenomenal woman to (borrow from maya angelou). not to mention, she looks perfect in that fuchsia dress.

  12. Chris says:

    Nice tweet. No one at work would’ve read it, so I’ll use it next time someone says something snide to me.

  13. andypandy says:

    Actually I am not a personal fan of Greys or Scandal .That being said I strongly believe that credit must be given where due as there is a fairly large demographic that seems to enjoy both shows and in that regard Rhimes is a success (hence my comments about the NYT fiasco on another post )
    I am however looking forward to watching Viola playing a law professor given her brilliant recurring guest roles as a lawyer in Law & Order SVU and her other work,

  14. Tiffany says:

    This is a woman who one up ‘ ed The Streep in a few minutes of film footage ( someone should be arrested for not voting for her to win for Doubt), knows the game in HW and does not come across angry or deflated, and now has a staring vehicle on network television. The only thing that stupid writer did was motivate me more to make sure my a** is in seat on Thursday night from here on out.

  15. The Original Mia says:

    Viola is flawless. Love her. She is amazing. That response to that ridiculous racist article was classy and to the point.

  16. jsilly4 says:

    Here is an interesting article from 2009 about Alessandra Stanley. How she still has a job as a journalist is mind boggling:

    I love Viola Davis. Fantastic actress and she always seems gracious and happy to be interviewed. I love her response. Classy, classy woman.

    • Petrichor says:

      From the article linked to by jsilly:
      “There’s a problem here, and it’s as much about the organization as it is about Alessandra Stanley.”

      It does seem weird to me that she still has a job if she’s so error prone. Is it because she writes about TV and not “serious” news? I don’t imagine a reporter writing about politics or world events could get away with similar poor job performance–one would hope.

      Serious question for anyone here with knowledge of news production: do newspapers not employ fact checkers, or are writers expected to do that themselves? I just can’t believe that a publication like the NYT would rather continually print corrections than put in the work necessary to make sure the articles are accurate in the first place. Resting on their laurels, I guess.

      Slightly OT: has anyone here read The Fabulist by Stephen Glass? It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read and is a “novel” about Glass being sacked by The New Republic for fabricating articles. I put novel in quotation marks because, from an admitted liar like Glass, who knows how much is true and how much is fiction.

  17. stellalovejoydiver says:

    On a superficial note Viola’s outfit is on point, loving the shoes.

    • A says:

      On another superficial note, I told my trainer I want Viola Davis arms. Apparently I am the first person to ever say that :) . But they look strong but attainable with work to me!

  18. T.C. says:

    Can’t wait for Viola’s new show. She is beautiful inside and out. You can ‘t keep her down. Her quote was perfect and classy.

  19. poppy says:

    viola davis is classically beautiful.

    • Senna says:

      I feel that Viola Davis should be the non-racist archetype of classically beautiful. It’s a loaded term, but I’m game to try to change it through usage!

  20. db says:

    Actually I’m glad Alessandro Stanley wrote that article, because it is a great example of the kind of unthinking stereotypes liberals (or whatever) in media and entertainment too often use as a kind of shorthand in their work. Two examples of this in TV shows are True blood and Walking Dead. Almost in defiance of today’s social realities, or multiracial audience, or even whether the source material is not racist, certain writers, both in print and in the industry have this almost hardwired stereotypes of minorities.

  21. Kay Vincent says:

    I first remember seeing Viola Davis on Law & Order SVU a long time ago & could not take my eyes off of her. The acting, her on screen presence…amazing. And yes, she is beautiful as well.

  22. Jenna says:

    Huh? I don’t see how Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington. They are both gorgeous, and in these pictures I would actually say Viola is the more vibrant and beautiful of the two. She really does know how to rock that fuschia!

  23. ElleGin says:

    How that stupid piece of “journalism” was allowed to be published is beyond me.

  24. NEENAZEE says:

    I respect Viola Davis, she’s one of the best actors working today. She elevates the quality of every project she’s involved with and I can’t wait to watch HTGAWM!!

  25. Dallas says:

    Beautiful ladies however, the dresses are not age appropriate, as far as length is concerned. A wee bit longer would have done it!

  26. HoustonGrl says:

    Less “classically beautiful”?? What does that even mean? This article is so full of assumptions. I don’t know who this reporter is, but she seems to think herself as “relatable.” I don’t think she’s as connected to her readers as she seems to think. Most of her article made me scratch my head and go “huh?” Let alone the offensive racist content. I wonder if Charles Blow will be asked to write nytimes’ own rebuttal!

  27. Senna says:

    Viola Davis is so stunning, I can’t help but wonder where Alessandra Stanley’s eyes are. “Classically beautiful” does smack of racism. Sure, Viola is not european-looking, but anyone who isn’t racist would look at her and see a beautiful woman with a very memorable face – and a very symmetrical face too, with big eyes and full lips, both features that are considered objectively beautiful.

    And I have only a passing familiarity with Shonda’s work (on Grey’s Anatomy), but I can’t imagine how she’d be characterized as “angry” through her work. If anything, her plots seem brimming with pluck, optimism, and a faith in the goodness of human nature. Her characters find themselves in tough situations (sometimes to the point of stretching credulity, but that’s a separate issue from the one at hand) and they talk through their problems, relying on their friends for support and help, and find healing from the trauma.

    Yup, these characterizations only make sense if the author has some seriously unexamined issues with racism. It’s really unfortunate that the response of anyone who is white, when accused of being racist, is to freak out and deny everything. Racist= bad person = not me, goes the tautology, and it prevents these people from being genuinely self-reflective. As soon as you listen to what your critics are saying, you can actually learn from the accusations and become a better person, taking responsibility for your viewpoints and realizing how you’ve absorbed existing stereotypes around you. You can begin to see other people as fully people, instead of through the lens of these stereotypes. This is an ongoing process that takes time, but it’s well worth the effort, and it ought to be considered our responsibility as human beings to put in the work. Especially if you are a NYT critic.

  28. birch says:

    If Viola Davis is not classically beautiful please allow me to join the ranks of the not classically beautiful .

  29. LAK says:

    That’s my favourite Maya Angelou quote.