Viola Davis

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Too many loose ends in Get On Up

By Charles Hallman
Staff writer


Any actor hired to play “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” in a biopic expectedly would be challenged at every split or scream he’d attempt in character on screen. Chadwick Boseman demonstrated this as he played the late James Brown in Get On Up, based on the legendary singer’s life – the film hit theaters today (Friday, August 1). “It’s hard to do James Brown,” says Kenny Lang, adding that it takes “a high energetic actor” to portray the singer. He and Sybil Lang saw an advance screening of the movie July 29 at AMC Southdale Center 16 in Edina. “I was hoping the story would have more on [Brown] up to his death [in 2006],” says Sybil Lang. Continue Reading →

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Will Get On Up get it right?

James Brown a/k/a the Godfather of Soul, precursor to Prince, did not lead what you would call a wholesome life. He grew up in a shack dirt poor, lived in a brothel, went to prison at age 16 for robbery, later went to prison again for assault and battery and, throughout his career — despite insisting his band members stay clean — did drugs, abused women and, well, as the expression goes, wasn’t nothin’ nice. On the other hand, his was, it goes without saying, one hell of a career. He was, onstage, on record and over the radio — long before MTV — celebrated, hell, worshipped as the entertainment heart and soul of grassroots Black America at its grittiest. When he released “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” it immediately became the national anthem for a 1960s groundswell that saw increasing urban unrest and hailed Brown as Soul Brother No. Continue Reading →

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Maid in America—Oscars tend to award Black actors playing stereotypical roles



When Viola Davis lost the Oscar for best actress portraying an African American maid in Katherine Stockett’s The Help to Meryl Streep portraying former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony, there was a collective sigh of relief from many of us African American sisters. Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, the author of an upcoming book on racial stereotypes, summed up my feelings best when she told MSNBC that ”what killed me was that in 2011, Viola Davis was reduced to playing a maid.”

Earlier during the Academy Awards ceremony Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her stereotypical role as the sassy, tart-tongued, “mammy-fied” maid, Minny Jackson, in The Help, making Spencer the fifth African American woman to receive the coveted Oscar, and the second sister portraying a maid. Sixty-two years earlier, in 1940, in Jim Crow America, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar, for her supporting role as a maid called ”Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. When civil rights groups, like the NAACP, criticized McDaniel for her portrayal as “Mammy,” McDaniel famously retorted, ”I would rather get paid $700 a week for playing a maid than seven dollars for being one.”

Knowing of the controversial legacy stemming from McDaniel’s role, Davis told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross her ”role of Aibileen, in the hands of the wrong actress, could turn into a cliché… You’re only reduced to a cliché if you don’t humanize a character. A character can’t be a stereotype based on the character’s occupation.” Davis contested she gave depth and dimensionality to her character by pulling from the actually lived experiences of both her mother and grandmother, who worked as maids. Continue Reading →

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