Respectful Representation or a Message From Hollywood: Stay In Your Lane

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Tony Award winning, Oscar and Golden Globe nominated actress and star of Shonda Land television production, How To Get Away With Murder, Viola Davis, made entertainment news earlier this year for accepting the role in HBO telepic, The Harriet Tubman Story, about the pioneer conductor of the underground railroad which led many slaves to freedom.

How fitting is it, the most prolific quote regarding freedom should come from the same character Viola Davis chooses to give voice to today.  At some point, mother Tubman recognized freedom was not just physical bondage but also a mind state. Surely the esteemed actress Viola Davis can recognize how this wisdom could save her from this project.

“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” -Harriet Tubman

Black and brown skin representation in Hollywood, dubbed the entertainment mecca, is what we call scrapping in the old neighborhood.  Whatever is left over after the big budget productions is sifted through and broken down into a easily digestible reflection of black America for mass approval.  This prototype for production is a death sentence for accurate story telling, and quality roles for working actors and actresses with varying shades of beautiful brown skin.

So the question begs for answer, how do we continue to tell the more accurate version of history and contributions which continue to get little or no attention but stay relevant to today’s struggles?  The flame has since extinguished on Harriet’s kerosene lamp leading the way north away from the more oppressive south.  Today the melanin advantaged are crushed under the weight of entire systems of oppression with more negative outcomes than positive.


For the Viola Davis’s of Hollywood, this appears as an honor to portray such a riveting true life individual who dedicated her life to a cause that Mrs. Davis can now stand on the shoulder of achievement. For fans and film enthusiast like me it feels like deliberately slow recognition and an attempt to keep the privileged in a superior, highly recognizable role of power.

Viola Davis is not alone in her role reprisals of racially divisive characters or time period oppression films.  Broadway Near You production, of Driving Miss Daisy staring Angela Lansbery, Daisy Werthan, the old Jewish white woman, and two-time Tony Award winner, James Earl Jones, as Holk Colburn, the black chauffeur, who despite the many antagonistic quirks of his boss, Daisy, develops a friendship that transcended the very real, racially divisive issues of that day.

What is being served as entertainment these days has a very familiar feel of stay in your place.

Starring Viola Davis
Viola Davis playing the real life Harriet Tubman

PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.


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