Three times better than anyone else

Worth Street (A Moment When She Wasn’t Those Things) ©MAIERMOUL
Worth Street (A Moment When She Wasn’t Those Things) ©MAIERMOUL

I was bullied at school. The black girl in Central Falls, Rhode Island, in 1973.

There’d be 8 or 10 boys, I would count them as I was running. They’d pick up stones and sticks from the side of the road and yell, “Ugly black nigger!” Always those three words: “ugly black nigger.”

Will Smith said: “There’s always one incident that defines you. I will always be the kid whose girlfriend broke up with him when I was 15.” And I am always that 8-year-old girl, running and running and running. I wore a mask because I didn’t want to show them that they hurt me. And I still do. I feel like the voice for all women of color sometimes. I don’t want to let them down. Let them see I don’t always feel attractive or strong.

So many women characters are extensions of male fantasy. They’re all coming out of the same factory, but I don’t recognize them from my life: skinny, young, cute. They drink like fish, have sex with 10 men in one day, but they’ve never been sexually abused or had any obstacles.

So, when they gave me a character whose adjectives were hard, manipulative, sexualized, it said something to me about trauma. It said: When she walks out the door, she has to have her hair and makeup perfect. She has to be three times better than anyone else.

But I needed a moment when she wasn’t those things, when she takes it off. That’s what makes people lean in. They can see themselves putting a retainer in their mouth at night to keep from grinding their teeth …

– Viola Davis, interview, The New York Times with Philip Galanes