By Angelique Jackson, Variety
With her critically acclaimed performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Viola Davis is primed to become the most nominated Black actress in Oscars history.
Though Davis’ name (and her rousing acceptance speeches) has become synonymous with the very notion of awards season, the celebrated actor is quick to point out the reality that this record is one that should’ve been set long ago.
“For me, it’s a reflection of the lack of opportunities and access to opportunities people of color have had in this business,” she says. “If me, going back to the Oscars four times in 2021, makes me the most nominated Black actress in history, that’s a testament to the sheer lack of material there has been out there for artists of color.”
Davis currently shares the record for the most nominated Black actress in the history of the Academy Awards, tied with close friend Octavia Spencer with three nods apiece. Both women have a supporting actress trophy at home (Davis won in 2017 for “Fences,” while Spencer won in 2012 for “The Help”).
The only other Black actress with multiple Oscar nods is Whoopi Goldberg, who has been recognized twice, nominated for best actress in 1986 for “The Color Purple” and winning the best supporting actress prize in 1991 for “Ghost.” The late Cicely Tyson earned an Oscar nod in 1972 for “Sounder” and an honorary Oscar in 2018.
Of the awards season maelstrom, Davis says, “I have to make it mean something. I do. If I just saw it as a moment for me to sort of puff up my own ego, I think that that would last for 10 seconds or less. It’s a platform. It’s another microphone. It’s another opportunity to open my mouth and speak a really fundamental truth about Hollywood and this business, and, really, America.”
Of course, this year’s ceremonies will inevitably be different, as they unfold amid the ongoing pandemic. There are logistical questions about what sort of hybrid virtual and in person broadcasts might take shape, but Davis is hopeful that the award season landscape will change in a more significant way.
“It’s always great to have the escapism of friendly competition, but at the end of the day, there are a lot deeper issues going on than whether we’re going to have the Oscars, or the Golden Globes, or the SAG Awards in person or virtually,” she says. “My fantasy is that people, that artists, understand that there is no separation with what we do, and what’s going on in the world. I’m actually really excited to see how that takes shape — how people speak their truths, even in their acceptance speeches, how they deal with getting golden statues and what they do with their power now.”
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