This past September, New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley wrote a feature about actress Viola Davis’s role in new series favorite, How to Get Away With Murder. Stanley not only ascribed the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope to Davis’s character Annalise Keating, but she also suggested that the actress inhabited an unlikely space as a leading woman on Primetime TV, because she isn’t as “classically beautiful” as actresses like Halle Berry and Kerry Washington.
Stanley’s backhanded slight set off a firestorm on social media, prompting Black women, Viola Davis’s fellow Black actresses, and producer extraordinaire and HTGAWM creator Shonda Rhimes, to take Stanley and the New York Times to task.
The NY Times piece also helped precipitate a very necessary discussion that challenged mainstream beauty norms via the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful.
Though this isn’t Viola’s first time addressing the infamous NY Times article, last night during her acceptance speech for winning an award for ‘Favorite Actress in A New TV Series’ at the People’s Choice Awards, she offered up a subtle, but wonderfully snarky, jab at having been called “less classically beautiful”,
“Thank you Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, and Peter Nowalk for thinking of a leading lady who looks like my classic beauty.”
Check out Viola Davis’s entire acceptance speech, below…
Tiffani Jones is the creator and writer of Coffee Rhetoric, a blog about women, pop-culture, film and race. A contributor to both print and digital media platforms, she has offered commentary in The New York Times, on HuffPost Live, and WNPR’s Where We Live.