This is a fabulous time of year for me, as I have the distinct pleasure of covering the Santa Barbara International Film Festival tributes—and the VIP after parties—for the local paper. (Tough job, I know.) Friday night brought SAG Award Winner and Academy Award Nominee Viola Davis to town, and the woman is a force! I’m kind of in love with her, actually—Girl Crush to the Nth degree. Her intelligence, candor, and wit are impressive enough, but one of the things that’s most striking about her is how beautiful she is—striking because that’s a facet of herself she’s often had to check at the door. And that’s a topic she wasn’t afraid to broach.
“As a woman of color,” she said, speaking of her sexuality and the auditioning process, “it’s like it’s too much to bring it.” Intelligent, articulate, emotive, strong: okay. But add even a hint of womanliness to that mix, and she becomes dangerous—or at least undesirable to a casting agent. (But why? Is the assumption that a complex, female character who is also attractive would be too much for the moviegoing public to reconcile?)
In some ways, I think, that message is out there for all of us to absorb, “Tread carefully, lady. Don’t be too much.”
Obviously auditioning for a role is one thing, and real life is another. But there’s something pretty relatable in that sentiment, doncha think? If you’re smart, successful, and funny, leave your sexy at the door, please. Be smart, but don’t be too smart. Too successful. Too funny. Too sexy. And if, god forbid, you are packin’ that much ammo, for god’s sake, play it down! Self-deprication is your friend. Don’t stand out too much.
It’s such a fine line, and such a mixed message, too. On the one hand, we’re expected to be perfect, to do it all, and all while looking perfect, being successful, whipping up Top Chef-caliber, organic meals, having epic sex, and meditating for twenty minutes a day. But on the other, perfection arouses suspicion. We see a woman who looks too good, who’s got it too good, who does it too good, and we look at her sideways.
Viola spoke of her very humble upbringing on Friday night, and, when she snagged the SAG on Sunday, she gave a shout out to the students of her small alma mater, imploring them to dream big. I’m taking that message to heart, too, and my big dream is this: that one day we won’t need to worry about being too much.