“I always say that I want to be Meryl Streep. And I believe and I really hope that we have the imagination, that we have the courage to bring those stories to life. Because I want to do for other young women of color what Cicely Tyson did to me in that apartment with the slats showing through the plaster and no plumbing and no phone and hardly any food and rats–she allowed me to have the visual of what it means to dream. I saw her in the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and that she threw me a rope. That’s what we do as performers, as actors, as icons, we throw other people the rope. And that’s what keeps me in it.”
The Weinstein Co screened The Iron Lady this morning for an elite group of bloggers apparently. I didn’t see it so I have no idea how good it is and have to rely on what they’re saying, which is basically what everyone else is saying — good/great performance, not so good/great of a movie.
Either way, it’s the Oscar race and it’s all about strategy, well placed journalists and bloggers, timing and swaying Academy opinion. With so much chatter out there it’s hard to know how things will land.
The actress I think is going to win this year is not Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, however. There isn’t anyone, as far as I can see right now, who can top Viola Davis in The Help. Rooney Mara might give her a run for her money in the Dragon Tattoo but from the reviews of Iron Lady it isn’t looking like Streep’s year.
The Help is one of the most successful films of 2011. It made $167,833,563. Once you get past the sequels and the comic book movies you have The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Bridesmaids and The Help. Three accidental success stories. Only one will probably be nominated for Best Picture, but barring that, Best Actress. Of the Best Actress contenders so far this year, only Viola Davis stars in what will likely be a Best Picture nominee in a whole sea of films starring white men. Viola Davis, the “little black girl with the afro” took a movie beyond $100 mil.
Warm, affecting, a favorite among many, The Help told a story that maybe didn’t need to be told in 2011, not on the page anyway. The story is really the publishing sensation of the author. But the story, too, is the Hollywood one. The rarity of what Viola Davis has done this year — though I sometimes feel like I’m the only person out there who is paying attention. Sure, the critics didn’t much like the film, and many white folk (myself included) whined about how insulting it was to black men and women in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. None of that has anything to do with what this movie did, what it might mean for future generations of black actresses, woefully underrepresented in the lead actress category at the Oscars. Not only does it never happen, but it’s often the reason black women aren’t put on the cover of Vogue, aren’t given a lot of the best parts — as Viola Davis says in the video above that women of color are never given the same amount of importance white characters and their white stories do. None of this changes if things don’t change.
Davis is much of the reason for the success of The Help. She is strong, unexpectedly controlled in her performance. She holds the film together. And it dies a little bit whenever she isn’t on screen. She is actually a lot better than the movie as she must play, like her co-star Octavia Spencer, the obedient slave then switch gears to play the human being too. David nails it.
Viola Davis, black as night, not made palpably half-black, like Halle Berry, the first black actress to win an Oscar and we were supposed to applaud them for finally breaking the ridiculously long record of shutting out black women. But Davis is black, plain and simple. The praise for her performance is well deserved. The admiration of her peers, solid. Even Meryl Streep shouted out to the industry why don’t they give her better roles?
Two actresses, Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, both growing up with the same dreams. One had it a lot easier because the majority of film scripts are written for and star white people. Hollywood mostly tells white stories, as if those are the only stories worth telling, the only stories with relevance. And here comes The Help – yes, maybe it’s made more palatable to white folk, like The Blind Side. Maybe it is all of those things. But none of that takes away from the two core performances in that film. So, in the end, it doesn’t really matter how the Weinstein Co. positions their film and whom they hand pick to champion it – the movie is the movie, the performance is the performance and once again it’s Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. Streep was Davis’ idol. It must have been something, then, when she was also her equal.
One thing I do know for sure? Meryl Streep will be casting her ballot for Viola Davis.