Hollywood Racism Receding But Sexism, Ageism Won’t Go Away

Viola Davis’ recent win at the Emmy’s is a representation of the opportunity coloured performers are now receiving, according to Kerry Washington, but it seems sexism is still very much alive and many women (and men) are sick of it.

Viola Davis at the Emmy awards
Viola Davis at the Emmy awards

Davis won the leading actress in a drama award on Sunday night for her role on the hit show ‘How To Get Away With Murder’. Speaking to Vanity Fair Washington, also a TV star with her show ‘Scandal’, said it was a sign that times are changing when it comes to discrimination.

“There have been a multitude of talented black actresses for a really long time. The opportunities for black actresses have shifted. That’s what’s changed.”

Neither woman is a stranger to the big screen either, with Davis appearing in ‘The Help’ and Washington in ‘Django Unchained’ but the TV format allows both women to shine and inhabit complex characters, something Washington says is vital.

“It means that our medium portrays women and people of color as not just being an accessory but being worthy of their own three-dimensional, multi-faceted story . . . that we don’t have to be perfect, we have to be human and we should have that right.”

Washington, who has an 18 month-old daughter, also went on to say that she doesn’t buy in to the scrutiny that comes with being on the red carpet, despite recently sporting the Marc Jacobs 2016 Spring collection.


Kerry Washington
Kerry Washington

“The red carpet has become a contest, and I’m not a very competitive person. It’s very hard to me to make creative decisions based on winning some sort of race, or winning a prize. I have to make decisions based on what feels good to me because you can’t please all the people all the time. So if I walk out the door and I feel really great about what I’m wearing then I’m serving my own sense of creativity and my own goals of what I’m trying to express through fashion, and I think that’s important.”

Davis is also set to star in next year’s sure to be smash hit ‘Suicide Squad’.

So while racial discrimination may be on the wane in the movie and television business it seems a lot of people inside the industry are still definitively convinced sexism, and ageism, is a big big problem. It’s an issue that has been present for a long time and one would think it should have been repaired by now but a lot of stars maintain it isn’t getting better. In recent times, actresses from Helen Mirren right down to Maisie Williams have expressed their distaste with the inherent sexism they see in scripts and the way entertainment is still being made. George Clooney has also come out said scripts need to do a better job of giving women lead roles. This comes in the wake of a statistic that has revealed there are fewer women in lead roles now then there were in 2002.  One would think it couldn’t possibly be getting worse but that’s the way it seems to be. Only 12% of 2014 films contained a female protagonist. But the few there were showed exactly why there should be more with mesmerising performances from actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games’ and Rosamund Pike in ‘Gone Girl’. Women directors are also conspicuous in their absence.

Emma Watson is another who has managed to forge a strong position for herself but recently spoke to The Guardian, laying things out in strict black and white to give example to the kind of male domination that is plaguing Hollywood.

“I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women. Of the producers I’ve worked with 13 have been male and only one has been a woman. But I am lucky: I have always insisted on being treated equally and have generally won that equality. Most of the problems I have encountered have been in the media, where I have been treated so incredibly differently from my male co-stars.”

Credit: smh.com
Credit: smh.com

Watson’s comments were just one part of nine testimonials by women involved in film talking about their experiences with sexism.

It begs the question, what can happen to buck this trend and change the landscape of film and television. Women like those mentioned continuing their great work and speaking out will go some way.