Viola Davis says a director she knew for 10 years called her his maid’s name

Viola Davis in a bright red jacket
Viola Davis is photographed at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 11, 2020. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Actor Viola Davis recently revealed a racist encounter she had with a director who called her by his maid’s name.

On Thursday, Variety reported that during the Kering Women in Motion conversation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Davis recounted how a male director repeatedly misidentified her.

“I knew him for 10 years and he called me Louise, and I find out that it’s because his maid’s name is Louise,” Davis said, without disclosing the director’s name. “I was maybe around 30 at the time, so it was a while ago. But what you have to realize is that those microaggressions happen all the time.”

The accomplished film, television and stage actor — who has won an Oscar, an Emmy and two Tonys — spoke about the disheartening lack of opportunities for dark-skin women of color in Hollywood.

“A lot of it is based in race. It really is,” Davis said.

“Let’s be honest. If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blond hair, blue eyes and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now. We could talk about colorism, we could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart — on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”

Viola Davis has had enough of the negativity from critics about her portrayal of Michelle Obama in Showtime’s miniseries ‘The First Lady.’

Through JuVee Productions — the company she co-founded with her husband, Julius Tennon — the “Fences” star hopes she is expanding the scope of what’s accepted onscreen.

“I know that when I left ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ that I don’t see a lot of dark-skin women in lead roles on TV and not even in streaming services,” Davis said. “Why aren’t you hiring a dark-skin woman when she walks in the room and you say she blows you away? Create space and storytelling for her so when she thrives, she’s not thriving despite of her circumstance but thriving because of her circumstance.”


Davis also made headlines last month when she slammed critics of her Michelle Obama portrayal in Showtime’s limited series “The First Lady.”

Viola Davis is being slammed for exaggerating Michelle Obama’s pursed lips to the point of ‘duck face’ in ‘The First Lady.’ But fans have her back.

“Critics absolutely serve no purpose. And I’m not saying that to be nasty either,” she said in an interview with BBC News.

“They always feel like they’re telling you something that you don’t know,” she added. “Somehow that you’re living a life that you’re surrounded by people who lie to you and ‘I’m going to be the person that leans in and tells you the truth.’ So it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you. But ultimately, I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices. Win or fail, it is my duty to do that.”

Watch Davis’ full conversation at Cannes below.