Viola Davis Shares Experiencing Dealing With Beauty Standards In Juilliard And Hollywood As A Black Actress

The Oscar winner gets real about beauty standards in acting.

By Adreon Patterson

As Hollywood pushes for diversity, inclusion, and representation, prominent Black actresses have been very vocal about their experiences. One of the voices often blasting the siren has been Oscar winner Viola Davis. The acclaimed actress hasn’t been afraid to expose her Hollywood dealings. But her latest anecdote put the spotlight on an extremely sensitive topic in the film industry. The Fences actress opened up about her experiences dealing with beauty standards as a Black actress in Juilliard and Hollywood.

Having been active in Hollywood since the 1990s, the Ma Rainey’s Black Bottomactress hasn’t been immune to the beauty standards in acting. Davis opened up about her struggles to The Guardian. She recalled being a young woman facing racism and colorism before even taking her first major credit. The Oscar winner mentioned as a Black actress she either had “to be a Black female version of a white ideal” or just white. But Hollywood hasn’t been the only place where she faced those ideals as Davis opened up about her Juilliard experience.

That was my issue with Juilliard. Whatever character I play, I’m not gonna play with the same palette as my white counterparts, because I’m different. My voice is different. Who I am is different? It was like, ‘Your voice is too deep, you’re too hard. So, you have to be light, but you have to be light like a 90lb white girl, you can’t be your light.’

Turns out that going to a revered institution like Juilliard came with all the baggage and standards of the real world. Being told you don’t have the “look” would turn a less self-assured individual would’ve quit. But the How to Get Away with Murder alum pushed forward despite facing major obstacles. In the same interview, the Oscar winner delved even deeper into her time at the prestigious acting school. She spoke to the pressure of being a Black woman in a primarily white space.

I think that sometimes, everything that you are can crumble under the weight of Eurocentric and white-centric notions. There’s nowhere for someone like me to go – nowhere. I got a wide nose, big lips, dark skin – I mean, where do I go? Look at me – I might as well walk through the doors of Juilliard and walk my ass out!

Even someone of Davis’ caliber isn’t immune to the strict beauty ideals of mainstream culture. Being an up-and-coming actress, she didn’t fit the mold for what Hollywood expected a Black actress to look like. No wonder the Emmy winner almost left Juilliard. But she managed to persevere against those odds to conquer stage, film, and television and become a Triple Crown winner.

Exposing Hollywood’s double standards was nothing new for Davis as she blasted the industry for the pay gap between white actresses and women of color in 2018. But the pay gap issues are still persistent as King Richard’s Aunjanue Ellis addressed her role in the cast receiving a payout from Will Smith. She mentioned the entertainment industry’s undervaluing of Black women’s contributions led to Smith signing some checks. Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph has been open about her Hollywood experiences like being fired for “not being Black enough” and fighting for her place in the industry. So, Black women in Hollywood are still fighting against certain ideals and beliefs.

Of course, the acting veteran will spill more about her Hollywood career and life when her upcoming memoir Finding Me: A Memoir, which will be available on Apr. 26. The Suicide Squad actress hasn’t sidestepped her main job as she returned to the small screen in the Showtime anthology series The First Lady. In the meantime, you can see what new movies Viola Davis had coming up by looking over our 2022 movie schedule.