Burden of Representation or a Structural Problem in Hollywood?

Adam Thompson of the great Shadow and Act asks:

So here’s the $64,000 question: Isn’t performance, rather than race, the true representation? When a talented actor delivers a masterful performance and creates an indelible character, does it matter if the role was “negative” or saccharine sweet? Should Washington and other actors of color be forced to play some variation of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life throughout their careers? Do they not “represent” by showing that we can be good, bad and everything in between while neither confirming hard stereotypes or slipping into caricature (see The Wire)? Does bad always mean bad, and does it reflect on our race as much as some believe?

I’ve grown as weary as I think most black people have of the burden of representation. I’m not interested in holding actors to a standard of bettering the race or not embarrassing black people in front of white audiences. Continue reading

Reacting to the Debate between Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer & Tavis Smiley

Viola Davis is remarkably eloquent on the complexities of the issues surrounding The Help:

 

Watch Actresses Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer on PBS. See more from Tavis Smiley.

 

That final point she makes about the psychic damage in black folks that is keeping us from doing our own shit and, if we do, causes us to create images that reinscribe racist beliefs about who we are is just beautiful stuff.

I also appreciate that Davis acknowledges that there really wasn't much to Aibileen after the book became a screenplay and that she will accept a critique of that. I think for an actress with so few options, that's incredibly generous. She would have every right to be as unconcerned with criticism as Octavia Spencer seems to be, but it's clear from this conversation that she's looked at this film, and the role she was asked to play, very deeply and from a variety of perspectives. 

And it's likely why her performance is so good.