Viola Davis Recalls Black Actors Saying She Wasn’t Pretty Enough for ‘How to Get Away With Murder’

Viola Davis

Viola Davis Credit: Gary Gershoff

Viola Davis reveals that after being cast in How to Get Away With Murder, she faced criticism over her beauty and looks from fellow Black actors due to her darker skin tone.

In her memoir, “Finding Me: A Memoir,” Davis describes her experiences of colorism and racism; including a moment when Davis, ignored by a teacher , wet herself in class at the age of 6. 

Davis recalled when she raised her hand to go to the restroom, but the teacher did not call on her, so she peed in the seat. The teacher sent Davis home, and when she returned to school the next day, the urine was still in her chair.

Davis concluded that she was so disgusting that even the janitor didn’t want to clean her mess.

The actress’ childhood home conditions prevent the future Oscar award-winning actress from washing herself and changing into another set of clothes due to a lack of heat, hot water, gas, soap, a working phone, or a toilet that flushed.

Davis started wetting the bed as a child because her father beat her mother at night, a habit she didn’t break until she was a teenager.

However, years later, she got a call from Shonda Rhimes; she learned that colorism followed her into the industry. Rhimes and Peter Nowalk were developing the prime-time drama, “How to Get Away with Murder”. They offered Davis the lead role as Annalise Keating.

Before the HTGAWM, Davis had mainly portrayed strong, tough, sharp women who were not sexually active. Davis’ role as Keating introduced her to a new sexually liberated character.

Davis said a friend told her that she overheard Black men and women; saying that she was unattractive for the role. And for the first time in her professional career; she couldn’t shake all the racial criticisms she had heard over her career. The HTGAWM star was 47 and terrified. But, she took the job anyway.

However, her experience in the upcoming film The Woman King, based on events in the African Kingdom of Dahomey during the 18th and 19th centuries, depicted a shift from just a half-decade ago. 

The Woman King reflected all of the things that the world told me were limiting; Black women with crinkly, curly hair who were darker than a paper bag, who were warriors.”

In addition, Davis discussed her experience with an alcoholic father, fertility issues, and adoption. After performing in Seven Guitars for the stage, Davis could finally afford premium health insurance.

As a result, she was able to have nine uterine fibroids; and both a myomectomy and hysterectomy while being treated for an abscessed Fallopian tube.