Why Cicely Tyson Combing Viola Davis’s Hair On HTGAWM Was The Blackest Thing I’ve Ever Seen This Week » VSB

blackest thing, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Why Cicely Tyson Combing Viola Davis’s Hair On HTGAWM Was The Blackest Thing I’ve Ever Seen This Week

I am convinced there is a writer — or, perhaps, a group of writers — on the How to Get Away with Murder staff whose sole job is to think of and craft the single Blackest scene they can possibly film that week while maintaining the show’s integrity. Perhaps their job title is ‘Blackness Grip” or “Cornel West” or something. Why do I believe that? Well, just let me say this…

Last night, I attended a screening of August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, the new American Masters documentary on the iconic Pittsburgh-born playwright. The doc — which was amazing — detailed Wilson’s upbringing in the predominately Black Hill District, his involvement with the Black Power movement, and his everlasting love for Blackness; Black customs, Black history, Black colloquialism, Black stories, Black everything. Many of Wilson’s friends, family, and peers — including Charles S. Dutton, Viola Davis, James Earl Jones, and Laurence Fishburne — also spoke of this love, often referencing how his words captured the rhythms and cadences and essences of Blackness in a way they’d never seen on stage or screen. This screening took place at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. There was a panel discussion after the screening. Included on this panel were Phylicia Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson; both of whom also spoke of Wilson’s visceral and bone marrow-deep love of Blackness.

This was perhaps the single Blackest event I’ve ever attended. A group of beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black people discussing the beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black work of a beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black man. All taking place in a center named after him.

And it still wasn’t as beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black as Cecily Tyson combing Viola Davis’s hair last night on How to Get Away With Murder. 

I watched it at my cousin’s place after the screening. It was her birthday and she’s bougie, so The Wife Person and I brought her some Thai food and a mini red velvet cake, and we all sat in awe as the sound of Davis’s hair becoming combed by the 511-year-old Tyson jumped through the screen.

I won’t even attempt to unpack that scene because, well, I don’t know if I can. At least not before watching it 17 more times and reading The Bluest Eye again. I just know that it was 8-rock Black. VantablackMa Rainey’s Black Bottom but only if Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom took place on an event horizon Black. “I’ve run out of ways to describe its Blackness” Black.

And I hope that Blackness Grip gets a raise.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • MeridianBurst

    What makes it even better is that it happened on #BlackWomenAppreciationDay.

    Cicely Tyson has to be the most heart warming person I’ve ever seen on a screen. Phylicia Rashad used to have that affect but in a different way. She’s just so poised and elegant that it makes the atmosphere around her more beautiful, and Cicely Tyson has that affect but in a way that warms the soul. It was already great seeing her but the way she made an appearance on the show was just…I appreciated that. Amazing show. Amazing writing. Amazing moment.

    The screening/panel sounds like it was a good time. I imagine that it would be the male version of a heart warming experience to be part of such a positive, celebratory event of blackness. We need more of that. More appreciation of the people who put in the work to move us forward, more time and attention paid to those who have high quality contributions to make to the culture, more promotion of the good aspects of our blackness and the people who put that goodness to the forefront. It’s dope when our every day heroes and local heroes pull the community together for something that’s actually meaningful and beneficial. Sounds like a really dope time.

    • Lana Dawkins

      This episode took all of us back to being Anna Mae. Not so polished or concerned with fitting in with other ethnicities.

      The blackest of the show for me was Annie Mae assuming the position really without a word.

    • Coffee2Atl

      Great remembering mama and them. You know what I mean. While writing this simple line bring tears to my eyes. You sisters.

  • BreezyX2

    Actually, I think the blackest part was when Viola stole that hot chicken drumstick out the pot Cicely was cooking in and proceeded to eat it without a concern that she was gonna burn her hands.

    • Angel Baby

      LOL yeah I’m gonna have to google this episode! It sounds good. LOL

      • mochazina

        i’m sure it’ll be on abc’s website now/soon

        • UDWRocks

          Hulu. That’s how I’ve been watching this whole time.

      • Guessed

        It’s on Hulu.com also. :-)

    • heyheyno

      Yeah that was pretty black. Even after momma popped her.

  • In high school we used to use alot of August Wilson’s plays in contests and dramatic interp. Jitney, Fences, Seven Guitars, The Piano Lesson, all mainstays, and we learned about him through performing his work! Now i know where Gem of the Ocean’s name comes from!
    Cicely Tyson is literally W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk.
    She is everybody’s grandmama.
    And now Viola might be everybody’s mama.
    Shonda is everybody’s auntie that used to take them to museums and libraries and always had a good book with her, and asked you if you were keeping your grades up.

    • Terri Smith

      Blackness is back because it sells. Whatever the reason I’m black and I’m proud – nappy head and all…

  • IJS

    The sitting and combing of hair was deep, but I’m gonna counter that the discussion was waayy deeper. Setting fire to your home, a home that a single Black woman OWNED, back then, to save her daughter from a rapist was the Blackest moment during the show.

    • MeridianBurst

      Mayne look. When she was laying in that bed looking like death, and Cicely tried to shake her out of it but realized she was legit hurting and they just held each other. I knew something heavy within the episode was going to be born out of that moment. It was on screen gold but it was heeeavy. And heartfelt. And touching. And black.

      Real G’s get choked up in silence like lasagna, so, my eyes didn’t get dusty or anything but I had to clear my throat a couple times.

      • Glynis Sturdivant

        Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahaha!!!!you are crazy as hell!!! But you said that!!!

    • cryssi

      Exactly, I saw that and immediately my momma, my grandma, and an auntie popped in my head, because they would totally have a story similar to that one to tell.

    • NaNa

      I completely agree!

    • Gawd_Dess

      I’m so glad you brought this up! People were so focused on how she got away with murdwr but the bigger principle in that lesson was she sacrificed a house, a sanctuary for her children, a home, an investment and the many other things a house represents to kill him and protect her daughter.

      • deedee

        Her escape! Refusal to live in fear and allow family to accept dominance.

    • Vada bowen

      I loved it. It was so deep. It was the Blackest moment I have ever seen. Many props to the writers. Awesome. I remember those days of my mama combing my hair as I sat between her legs.

    • carol durante


  • SAR

    It was alll kinds of beautiful! The whole damn performance. The damn near cussing out, the slick one-liners (VIP mighta been my fave), etc…just all of it!

  • MostlyMax

    My mouth legit dropped open. I was frozen in place for the whole scene just stunned at seeing a Black girl ritual telegraphed to the world. Amazing.

    • ds9sisko

      For those of us who know better, it wasn’t just a Black girl ritual.

      • MostlyMax

        Well it was THIS Black girl’s ritual. I wasn’t speaking for anyone else.

      • juju

        Can you explain this. I am not being facetious just want to understand what you are saying.

      • Gheri

        I beg your audacious pardon, what other race share this ritual. I’m not sure if you noticed but this has become a place of solidarity for Blackness. Did you read the article? Perhaps you should take your ignorance elsewhere, you are not welcome here…

  • Leigh

    That scene made me so nostalgic, I almost cried. I remember sitting on the front porch, (I’m from the south y’all) between my mother’s legs while she combed my hair. No one, NO ONE thought this was strange because EVERYBODY’S momma did the same thing. She would even hold full conversations with you and someone that just stopped by because we were outside. she could switch between conversations, tell me to keep my head straight, and whack me on the head with the comb if I didn’t hold my head back at the same time. *sigh* I miss my momma y’all. RIP

    • MeridianBurst

      Moommmaaa. Momma, you knooow I love yooou. Momma you’re the queen of my heart. Your love is like tears from the stars. Momma I just want you to know, loving you is like food to my soul. *waves candle in the air*

    • TeeChantel

      I remember getting whacked with a comb many of days. My mother would also yank my head a lot. I swear I suffered from whiplash a few time.

    • mochazina

      i’m not sure our styles were complete without a whack in the head with the comb or a pop with the brush… LOL

      • Jocelyn Juice Steele

        Yes!! I always wanted to feel to see if she was almost done & she would pop my fingers!! ????

    • PunchDrunkLove

      Whacked with an afro comb…..a red one. I think most black girls can reminisce about this.

    • Sydney Molare’

      GIRL! You said a mouthful! Miss you momma too!

  • uniquebeauty79

    While I watched, it reminded me of the times in my Grandma’s room getting my hair hot combed because I had really long hair that my mom didn’t have the patience or the skills to dare attempt to tame….#memorylane

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Reading about all this Blackness is great. Just be careful. Anymore discussions of Blackness, and the Black Jews will be here, and all the happiness goes downhill from there.

    Cicely Tyson always reminds me of my dad’s mom. I think I’ve always had an affinity for her.

    • Agatha Guilluame

      Reading about all this Blackness is great. Just be careful. Anymore discussions of Blackness, and the Black Jews will be here, and all the happiness goes downhill from there.

      I don’t even know what that means but I’m CRINE

      • “CRINE”…by far, the blackest thing I’ve seen typed all week long. And seeing it made me chuckle.
        I applaud you.

      • SweetSass

        Black Israelites, a religious group that takes to street corners in DC to preach in yelling all day long.

        • Jetty

          See we still suffer division from lack of knowledge… There is more than one sect of Hebrew Israelite.. The radical ones are those on the corners, there are others who are peaceful and do tons of work and good in the community. The Old Soul Veg, Everlasting Life, etc… Extremist of any group are generally not welcome but to take a group of our people and speak ignorance upon them is surely worse. Ignorance breeds defeat… Knowledge leads to freedom!

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Next time you’re in NY, I’m taking you to where the Black Jews be at on the corner. Bet money they start popping shit about you and me not being Black enough in less than 5 seconds.

    • Kalashnikov.C.Lyon

      Chuckles at *The Black Jews*. I want to ask but maybe I should leave it….

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Save your soul! They will suck the life out of you and curse you out at the same time.

  • TeeChantel

    Agreed. I love that Voila Davis is so comfortable in “her skin” and continues to take off her mask for the entire world to see. No make-up, no weave, just raw, unfiltered Voila Davis. But yeah. That entire scene was black. And dope. And amazing. SN: I can’t remember where I heard this from but there’s a running joke out there about how it is great for Cicely Tyson to
    decide to roll out of bed and make an appearance on national t.v. It’s sad. I know I shouldn’t laugh but, I may have let out a chuckle or two last night.

    • SweetSass

      Viola. But “voila!” works too ‘cus she is magic!

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