tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 10, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PST
smiley. tonight the conversation with viola davis and octavia spencer. octavia spencer is a first-time nominee as best supporting actress. the best-selling book of the same name is also a region which is also up for best picture. luther king boulevard. know. donohue boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. praxair please welcome -- >> please welcome viola davis and octavia spencer. the talented actresses are both up for oscars this year. they are not in the same category, so we will not have any nonsense tonight. both recently took home the top prizes at the screen actors guild awards, here is a scene from "the help." >> put her in a share.
>> i am not deaf yet. >> would you see if maybelline has some ambrosia? >> i told mom it was that ms. hillie's. she looks like the winner of the kentucky derby. i am about to kill the woman. she could not pay for more toilet paper. [laughter] tavis: when you were filming this, did you have any idea it would resonate with the american public a way that it has? >> i hope it would resonate. the book have such a huge following, but i thought it could go either way. it could be great failure or a great success. nothing in between. there was too much expectations
surrounding the film. too many people felt you had to get the characters just right, and too many naysayers said why do it anyway? >> let's start with them. let's get it out of the way. let me be honest, the only way i know how to be in conversations. i celebrate the two of you. i am delighted. i am pulling on both of you to win, yet i will admit to your there is an ambivalence. denzel washington and i worked out in the same gym. he tells me all the time to get over it. i did not like when they did
what they did to him on "hurricane." i did not like when he did not get nominated for "malcolm x," but the most lowly role the academy celebrate him. you have done linda -- have done lovely work, but there is something. i want you to win, but i ambivalent about what you are winning four. >> here is the first thing we should address. for me anthony hopkins won for being a serial killer who was accountable, and shirley's thrown -- charlize theron 14 being a killer, so it does not strike me as odd that the academy would award villains,
but i do not have a problem with rewarding these earnest, hard- working women. be that as it made that a white woman wrote the original source text, but the fact is, at least she had the insight to write about women and we have not heard from, so i do understand your ambivalence, and i am glad you preface it by saying you are happy for us, because a lot of people are not, but i understand that. >> that mindset you have and that a lot of african-americans have is destroying the black artist. a black artist cannot live in a place, in a revisionist place. the black artist can only tell the truth about humanity, and humanity is messy. people are messy. caucasian actors know that.
they understand when you bring as human being to life, what you want as an artist to show all the flaws as well as the beauty. we as african american artists are more concerned with image than execution, which is why every time you have seen our images, they have been watered down to a point where they are not realistic at all. it is like all of our humanity has been washed out. we as artists cannot be politicians. we can only be truth tellers, so guess what? if the woman next door killed her baby and was 100 pounds overweight and ate a piece of fried chicken. he told stories about illiterate
thugs, and arthur miller did the same thing, and he is absolutely elevated as being the greatest writer in american dramatic theater history. >> i like this. let me respectfully challenge that, because i think that is a strong indictment. i started by saying, i celebrate you, and i want you to win, because you play those roles better than anyone can play them. i will let you sit with that. that is a strong indictment, but i hear it. here is why i disagree. when you wanted to give an example of arches, the best of us telling our stories and -- the best artist selling our stories, you mentioned august wilson. it takes and august will some --
august wilson to do that. while i celebrate your accomplishment, there is a lack of balance in this industry, and it makes me ambivalent. there is an ambivalence when i see the audience stand up and cheer and go wild when the characters we are celebrating our real. my grandmother was a domestic, so i understand the story full well. the ambivalence comes when there is a lack of balance in the industry. >> if you were to come to me and say that you were ambivalent because you felt the writing was not balanced, that you felt with many and konstantin u. did
not feel there was a lot of color to the character, but their humanity was not explored, that you saw a flat, and realistic stereotype, i would go with you. -- on realistic -- unrealistic stereotype, i would go with you, but if your criticism is you do not want to see the made or you do not want to see denzel washington plays a rogue cop, i have issue with that. maxim is a man who is illiterate, and in the middle of the play, he says, i am having sex with another woman. i have impregnated her.
tell this wife i have to raise this baby, and i am bringing it home to you, unapologetically, and we sit in that theater and scheerer, -- cheer. tavis: you are back to august wilson, and in the context of his body of work, there is a balance of character, of other upstanding, outstanding, celebratory african-american figures, so that violence is there. -- that balance is there. i am suggesting there is a lot of celebrating, but there is this ambivalence. you want them to win, and you are pulling for them, but there is something about this industry. it is not an indictment about the two of you.
it is an indictment of the industry. >> i understand, but if we are going to take on the entertainment industry, let's take on basketball, nba, nfl. let's take on that industry, because is it not saying to african-american young men, you cannot be a scientist. you can only play basketball. let's take on the music industry with wrappers. to basically say to actors, i have a problem with the facts that you are playing maids, if these characters were not characters of noble -- there is nothing ignoble about what they do. now they are trying to put their families home. there is nothing ignoble about what they do. my problem is the fact that it is a limitation, a feeling we are placing upon ourselves. it is about excellence. if i am going to be many in
2011, i would rather be a woman who is standing up for what she believes in, and let me tell you, i would love to play a serial killer. i want to shred, and there is a limit of roles that are out there for african american women and women of a certain size, one of a certain age, there are so many different categories to deal with. >> that is why i said it is a fine line, because george lucas, at the same time we are celebrating your wonderful performances, and george lucas has made a lot more money in hollywood than us. george lucas cannot get a money about black male heroes made. we can get the made nate, but he cannot get a studio -- we can get maids, but he cannot get a studio to make it.
he has to beg somebody to distribute it. they still tell him no, and he has to put up his own money to distribute it. it is the industry that wears me out. i talked to people every night. >> it wears me out on a different level, because to me there are not enough multifaceted roles for women who look like me. they are roles when i open up the script and the character goes on a journey, where i see a balance, where i am not always dignified, i know everything, i see everything, i am this straight black woman friend, all knowing, what ever. i am talking about a multifaceted human being that actually lives and breathes. i have a problem and with that. i have a problem without having more roles that are lead roles. i have issues with that, but i
understand the arguments with the film to a certain extent, and after a certain extent, i lose it, because my whole thing is, do i always have to be noble. if i always have to be noble, in order for the african-american community to celebrate my work, that is when i say you are destroying me as an artist. i am saying as an artist, you have to seen the mess. what we do as artists is we get a human being, and it is like putting together a puzzle, and the puzzle has got to beat a multifaceted mixture of human emotion, and not all of its is going to be pretty. we are not going to be heroes.
that is all i am saying as an artist, but i get what you are saying, too. we are on the front lines. tavis: i accept that explanation. i forgive you, but you called me a destroyer. we will move on. i said this at a dinner party last night. i was saying to my friends of mine said you were coming to the show, and this conversation jump off at the dinner table. i said something is wrong in america when it is easier for a black man to be president of the united states than in it is to get a film in hollywood screen lit -- green linnet. that is a major indictment. >> it begins with ticket buyers. there was an amazing film called a pariah, and if you have not
paid to see it, you are part of the problem. >> here is why i started this. i raised this to purge myself of my own ambivalence about this project, but to ask, did any of this -- how much of this go into your decision making about whether to do the part, about whether or not things need to be rewritten that we never saw? how much of this factored into bringing these characters to life? >> i will let you take a first slice. >> i would say it kept me awake for about three months. because of this conversation right here, but once again you feel like you have to defend your choices as a black artist, and i felt like with abilene more so because she is so internalized, her life is
internal dialogue, and by the time it reaches the screen, most of its is cut, and what is left could be seen as mammy, and might issue a lot of times with black characters is we always have to be loud and in your face. very seldom are there subtleties, and i am an artist. i believe in subtleties. i did not feel people would get her, that no one would take the effort to understand there are so many things she was holding, and therefore i would be labeled as a black actress who took for role timeas mammy. but we differed not respectfully, because i did not have a issue. if i am going to law school, who is going to tell me what case not to take. as i am going to be a doctor,
who is going to tell me which patients not to take? you have to fulfill your own dreams and destiny and hope that whatever your art is, if it is received, great. i respect you for receiving it. if it is not, great. you have to keep pushing it on. >> you feel no burden about any of your choices? >> not at all, because where is the indictment in the jewish community about their history? >> they do not have to be indicted because this town will make a movie about a holocaust seven days a week. >> we have so many affluent african american producers. why are we still having the same conversation? tavis: because they do not control distribution channels. >> why have they not pull their resources together.
if someone is not doing what you feel they should be doing, why are you waiting for them to do anything? >> agreegreed. >> we have enough resources out there that if people are this upset, i am thinking, let be a part of the solution and have our own distribution. >> that is not the issue. they say forgivenesses about giving up all hope of a different path, and that is the issue. it is the issue with me, sue. i have been guilty of the same thing. 350 years of racist policies in this country, and what is left is this pain, this anger, and any image that is out of sorts .an agitates it it is not a clear-cut linear
argument, because i am a dark skinned african-american actress, and i would say i have had so many african-american artists in my house having the same conversation. i read so many scripts. so many people say, i have the ultimate role, and i would say 99.9% of them are the urban ghetto mothers who are highly unattractive. they are probably far more insulting than some of the roles given to me by white industry people, so i am saying it is something deeper. it is a deeper issue, and i think a lot of times we want to erase our history, but we rarely want to face it. we do not want to face that somehow we cannot let go of that
pain. tavis: i hear the point you are making, and in theory i agree. i said it is not anger. it is righteous indignation, and at some point wanting to see a more level playing field. i am not holding on to angkor. -- anger. i was not a slave. my mother was not a slave. this is what i love about the movie. i am a thinker. i do not just act like one on television. i try to think, and i love movies that move me to think, which raises the question. what you think the american public is connected suit about the humanity of these characters? >> they humanity and none of these characters. i said it last week.
these are our mothers. these are our grandmothers. this country was built on the backs of our mothers, our great grandmothers, our great grandfathers, and they should be celebrated in a way that i feel above's character does, and beyond. >> you, too. >> many did make that pie. -- minnie did make that pie. [laughter] i do not think our grandmothers would have done that. i am holding out hope, but i do think it is humanity. it separates the white versus black. it is people who come together to do something that makes a difference in their world, and that no young white girl is coupled with an older black woman.
you are not that much older than emma. >> eye of -- i am a lot older than her. >> we focus on the things that make us different and never embraced the things that make us the same. >> let me ask you if on sunday night, and i am praying to god because i celebrate black women, and i want them always to shine, so i am hoping that both of you win in both of these categories. if both of you takeoff that oscars statue, what do you think the academy will be celebrating? a fine performance exclusively? a deserving performance? you think that is what it would be about? >> that is what my hope would
be, that the performances rise to that level. the thing you have to vote for or with african-american artists at the best is that they passed the baton -- have to hope for with african-american artist of the best is that they pass the baton on. sometimes we get so caught up with images that we do not think about the execution and ultimately to say something highly controversial. a lot of times the people who project those images better so positive are not artists, so therefore they have a good two years in them, and you never see them again, and it is not just because hollywood is not celebrating them. it is because they do not have the inside, the talent to carry the baton to the next leg. ellis, and rosalynn ross, these are truly actors who are
celebrated. artists who are celebrated. >> let me close on this note. not that i have anything to say about this in this town, but i hope the academy will do the right thing and give these statues to viola davis and octavia spencer, because they have earned it. they have played these characters better than anyone else could, and let's move on. let sell some other stories about the humanity of black people. i am routing for you. >> even though i insulted you. i celebrate you. tavis: i celebrate you, too. that is our show for now. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org.
tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with personal finance manager and best-selling author suze orman. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more. pbs. pbs.