“You don’t ask for the truth. You pound it out of them, relentless in your pursuit of the answer you want.”How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating
These are the words of the character Viola Davis has helped bring to life and enrapture audiences across the board on ABC’s tv show, How to Get Away with Murder. Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating, a power-house professor of defense law who is also a brilliant criminal defense attorney with the strongest of resolves and piercing words and tactics, evident in her lines like, “Prayers are for the weak — I’ll stick to beating your ass in court.” Annalise Keating was polished, in control, and in style – all of the right characteristics for a charismatic female lead. But while binge-watching the tv show and being totally captivated by Viola Davis’ flawless portrayal of Annalise Keating, I came upon a scene that would be the breakthrough of the orchestration of this strong female lead character.
As the scene continued to unfold, I felt confusion about why it was happening. I wasn’t sure when she would stop taking off her makeup and when the camera would just fade out. I understood that it was to portray a different side of Annalise Keating that the audience hadn’t been introduced to, a more vulnerable state. The ritual of getting ready for bed is something that everyone is aware of and unique to each individual, and the audience was seeing the very intimate, personal moment of the strong, charismatic leader they had gotten to know over the past few episodes. I continued to watch and just went with the belief that it was so give more depth to the character. Then, the key moment struck.
Viola Davis took the wig off.
That choice of action was something that I definitely had not been anticipating at all, especially for a show that had such a large scale audience.
According to this article, Viola Davis explains:
“Before I got the role, I said, ‘Shonda, Pete, Betsy, I’m not gonna do this unless I can take my wig off.’ It’s like Rosalind Russell said, acting is like stripping naked in front of an audience and turning around really slowly. One of the reasons I stopped watching TV was that I didn’t see myself on TV. I’m not just saying as a woman of color or a woman of 49, but just as a person. I see a lot of sexy women who are hard, cold, look like they have windswept hair and lip gloss and light makeup when they say it’s no makeup. I work out five days a week, and I’m still not a size 2. So I wanted to see a real woman on TV.
There was something for me that I didn’t buy about Annalise in private. It felt like who she was in private had to be diametrically opposed to who she was in public. And so in order to do that, I felt like I had to physically take the wig off. I mean, I have no eyebrows. I have eyelashes that I put on, and there was something extremely vulnerable about that act — and I know it seems like a very simple act at the end of the day — but for me, that simple act really surmounted to something very powerful in the end, because what it was was someone being very, very private in public, which is absolutely the cornerstone of what we do as artists.
I didn’t just want to walk in heels like I was a supermodel. Who does that? That was how that scene came about. I didn’t want to wake up in bed thinking that this is how I really look. I wanted to woman up, and I wanted to actor up, too.”
These prove to be some very powerful words, especially with being awarded the Emmy for Best Drama Actress. Viola Davis was working to present to the world a woman, a strong woman, with all the raw and rough parts that come along with being human. This scene was a moment where I recognized, realized, and was reminded of the beauty of vulnerability and being able to represent a sort of character that is underrepresented in Hollywood and film/tv industry in general. It also meant being able to show a beauty that wasn’t what’s typically recognized as acceptable as beautiful in the industry. How many positive characters can you name in the media that celebrates beauty, skin, hair, and race in this way? I don’t imagine that there are many.