Why The “Unmasking” Of Viola Davis On HTGAWM Is The Blackest Thing We’ve Ever Seen This Week » VSB

blackest thing, Race & Politics

Why The “Unmasking” Of Viola Davis On HTGAWM Is The Blackest Thing We’ve Ever Seen This Week

1. Because Blackness, in its essence, is about innovation and creativity born out of circumstance. It’s assigning practical solutions to less than ideal situations. It’s the perpetual shifting of an imperfect paradigm. It’s how soul food was created. It’s why ball players from Chicago are traditionally adept at getting to the hoop because it’s too windy there to really become a great shooter. It’s everything we love and hate about hip-hop. It’s us.

And, on How to Get Away With Murder last night, Blackness allowed Shonda Rhimes to create a 120 second-long scene unlike anything we’ve ever seen on television before. There have been other movies and television shows were characters have been forced to demask for various reasons. But nothing with the levels of racial, historical, and even sexual context of Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating taking off her “mask” — her wig, her makeup, and even her eyelashes — to confront her White husband. I’ve probably watched tens of thousands of hours of TV, but that was one of the 10 most remarkable things I’ve ever seen on screen.

viola davis

2. Because nothing is Blacker than a Black person “fixing their face” right before a confrontation. Sometimes the face fixing involves an application of Vaseline. Sometimes it’s a removal of jewelry. (Raise your hand if you’ve seen two people pause to take earrings and/or chains off before fighting. Raise both hands if you were that person.) Sometimes it’s just your best ice grill. Either way, “Blackness” is also the process of not allowing your fighting to impact your flawless.

3. Because last night’s scene was basically Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis uniting to say “Fuck your “less than classically beautiful.

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.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    I missed it!! Did she have Jill Scott’s Getting in the Way playing???

    I was going to nominate the closing scene of Blackish where the generations or men were watching that azz go by but I may need to re-evaluate my decision once I watch.

  • PunchDrunkLove

    Laaaawd, all I could think was she was on one…lol. One brave sista. I don’t wear make-up, but I’m not sure I could do that on national t.v.!! Wait, yeah I could. Lolol. Still, I thought it was a brave commendable move. Not sure how viewers would receive.

    I was on Madam Noire’s site and there were 100 + star pics of with versus without make-up. Mostly white and most just plain hagly. From last night’s episode to folks out and about in Hollywood, “classically beautiful” is mostly found behind the make-up counter. Thank goodness I’ve never needed make-up to help in the way of beauty. And frankly, sans make-up (heck or with), white women ain’t got the patent on beauty as supposed all these years, if we can just be frank. Don’t want that to sound mean or biased, but IJS. We all know, mostly, black don’t crack. And we all know if you just gotta make a run in the bare, well black women can do it easily or more easily I guess I should say.

    • Wild Cougar

      I’m gonna stand over here in the corner with Punchy and say I can only relate in principle. I don’t really wear make up like that. My mom didn’t, my sisters don’t and I didn’t really grow up with women who put on major masks like that. I mean, I knew a few diva types but they were pastors wives or that rich socialite couple. I always considered them the plastic people and we didn’t socialize with them. I guess I was missing a whole culture. I wouldn’t necessarily call the mask a “Black” thing. It’s a “some women” thing.

      • PunchDrunkLove

        I like “Punchy!!”

  • for all the people that don’t get it.. they just never will.

    but as a black woman, who has to wear a mask, weather it means make-up or not being the ‘angry black woman’ every day of my life- it was one of the most heartbreaking, poignant, triumphant scenes of television i’ve ever witnessed.

    say what you will about her shows, but shonda is changing so many things for people who grew up with the last images of black woman having shows being 20+ years ago.

    and while the show is bad/good (the flashbacks and some of the acting is terrible..but i watch from the post-scandal high) – i’m all the way here for shonda raising a middle finger in the air on behalf of so many of us who don’t say/wear what we want to. all the while taking ABC money to the bank.

    *does my fiercest black woman hip-swaying, natural hair flicking strut ever*

    • Meridian

      This is one of the best shows on TV as a whole package. I don’t even know what to call the experience of watching it. Somewhere between suspenseful and unpredictable, this show has managed to deliver something totally refreshing to television.

    • kneelbeforetigers

      Amy Juicebox, PREACH. PREAAAAACH

    • BOOM. What she said!!

  • miss t-lee

    It was so awesome.
    Viola was about to do work, and had to get ready.
    Sooooooo dope. Just when I thought I couldn’t love her anymore, she killed that scene!

  • h.h.h.

    missed it. jets vs. pats was on.

    *adjusts his mask*

    • Sigma_Since 93

      *adjusts his mask*

      No gif to go with this????

    • Tx10inch

      Missed it too. Sooo…

    • Damon Young

      the vid is embedded in the post now

      • h.h.h.

        thanks. interesting

    • Val

      The Jets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night. Smh.

  • Animate

    “It’s why ball players from Chicago are traditionally adept at getting to the hoop because it’s too windy there to really become a great shooter.”

    Mind. Blown.

    Why have I never thought about this?

    • h.h.h.

      never peeped that either..


      best 3 pt shooter from Chicago, who played more than 6 years, (and not from the suburbs, Craig Hodges and Jeff Hornacek are from outside Chicago) might be Quentin Richardson or Bobby Simmons


    • Jay

      Ironically Dwayne Wade, originally from Chicago, is saying that he feels more comfortable behind the arc now and will be shooting more three pointers this season. He probably needs to seeing as how he’s aging and injuries are getting to him but… we’ll see how that goes.

    • Tis’ Me Again

      Actually, this is a myth. I live in Chicago and have heard this many times, so I decided to research. Chicago is no more windy than any other city. It got it’s name from it’s politics — namely, its politicians who were known for their “connectedness”, and long winded or “windy” nature. Nothing at all to do with actual wind, but it seems that most people want to make it stick anyway. *shrug*

      • MrsMommy

        I am more ready to believe the people of Chicago than anything you have ever read. Being called the “Windy City” in reference to its weather was not born yesterday. In fact, it may have two meanings—-one of which is no longer relevant.

        • AlwaysCC

          according to weather statistics/studies, chicago definitely is not the windiest city by far. i could basically call any city “the windy city”


          • MrsMommy

            The argument was not about what city is the windiest.

            • AlwaysCC

              chicago is no more windy than any other city. so, as i stated before, i could call any city the windy city. and btw – a lot of the “people” of chicago also know that the name has little to do with the actual wind.

              • MrsMommy

                This isn’t about what YOU would call a “windy city” or what city happens to be the “windiest.” Chicago has always had the moniker “The Windy City” and there is nothing you can do about it. And you will deal. Chicago is also known as the city of “Big Shoulders.” I’m sure you are thinking that this means that Chicagoans think that they have the only or the biggest shoulders in the world.

              • MrsMommy

                Chicago has been called the “Windy City” by its own inhabitants for generations—-not just when you learned how to read. If they want to call their city that, this is their business. There is no “hugest” apple in the Big Apple either. But it has been called that for generations none-the-less.

  • Meridian

    “It’s why ball players from Chicago are traditionally adept at getting to the hoop because it’s too windy there to really become a great shooter.”

    Okay, first off…that’s mind blowing.

    When watching that scene my breath was stolen. It was literally breathtaking when watching that because it was such a beautiful moment. It had so many layers of substance and meaningfulness that the beauty of it took my breath away. It was also unexpected and I didn’t really understand where they were going with it because as a black woman, there’s just SO much to get about that. There’s so much of that moment that floods you and it just clicks. It was overwhelming in the sense of know so I couldn’t really comprehend what it meant to the storyline, but then her husband came in and I snapped back into the show. #Those9Words were incredibly impactful and the fact that she legit prepared herself to beat his a*s was just beyond hilarious. Tickle me pink until I turn as red as Elmo from laughing but that is just an epic a*s chain of events. She squared up. Now he’s dead.

    Z snap.

    • Muze

      i thought i was the only one blown away by that little chicago tidbit! lol.

  • afronica

    I’ve been on the fence about How to Get Away. I wasn’t really connecting with the characters. I don’t like the way the flashbacks are shot (too dark and too many weird angles and jump cuts), and I don’t really enjoy the way we’re constantly whipsawed between past and present. The writing’s a little too on the nose for me. I don’t like the stereotypes (the gay guy’s a slore, the bougie black barbie princess is heartless and money and status obsessed). And some of the acting was feeling as shallow as the writing (exception: Viola).

    But those last couple of minutes. I really have never seen anything like that on tv before. I’ll be watching the rest of season based on those few minutes alone.

    I’ve seen comments from women up and down my timeline for the past few weeks wondering why Annaliese’s wig and eyelashes and tight outfits seemed to be doing battle with each other. Last night, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the feeling that Annaliese was wearing a confining costume was on purpose. Her need to get into character to face the world reminded me of my mother never leaving the house without full makeup, hair done and wearing heels. It reminds me of a lot of the women I know and see.

    It could be my imagination, but it feels like something is shifting out in tv land. A white surgeon has a black break baby, and the white and black sisters are left to try to establish some sort of relationship (Grey’s). An entire sitcom episode is about whether or not a couple will do an!l (The Mindy Project). Dormtainment has a real bid for a show on Comedy Central, Numa Perrier and Dennis Dortch are developing a show for HBO, and Issa Rae continues to do it her own way with new web shows under her ColorCreative.tv banner while also ginning something up for HBO with Larry Wilmore.

    I just…please let this all be real.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Praying the Dormtainment project is green lit.

      • BreezyX2

        Me too! Those boy are talented.

      • afronica

        I think it’s so cool that these guys are barely 30 (I think). I really want to see more young, black and male perspective in the mix.

        ETA: Looks like almost all of them are 25! Amazing!

        • theokyoung

          Yeah, some people may not see it this way but black males have basically no real voice in entertainment. Black males are more objects than actual people communicating.

    • alladis

    • kdskipper

      I agree with your problems with the show. Especially the characters. There’s not one that I like or can relate to, including Annalise! So, I’m not invested in it yet.
      I hope they improve on those or I’m going to have to back away from it.

  • “What’s your dyck doing on this dead heaux phone?” BEST LINE I HAVE EVER HEARDDDD

  • With the exception of the skinny black boy that makes those dumb facial expressions, I think HTGAWM is an amazingly fantastic show. I could not pull my eyes away from the last 120 seconds of the episode. It said so much that I probably won’t get to right now because… work. So I thought about two things: 1.) I can relate to the makeup wipe because I wear eye makeup. However, removing said make-up never comes off the easily as it did for Viola. I usually have to scrub, scrub, scrub until the make up comes off. *shrugs* 2.) What I took away from that scene is that throughout the entire episode – and season – Viola Davis’ character Annalise Keating is one bad-ass lawyer. In the real world, her emotionless, stoic, and remote self does not let anything or anyone phase her. However, what we saw last night (i.e., removing of the mask) was revealing her most vulnerable self. It spoke loud. I heard it and I can relate. I can’t speak for everyone but that vulnerable self is something I have a hard time revealing to the world.

    • PunchDrunkLove

      I see him and wonder if that’s his show character or if he’s light like for real. His character seems airy. Not slow airy, sort of geeky airy. Not a bad thing per se, but I just wonder if him or his character.

      • L

        That’s Dean Thomas from the Harry Potter movies, he kinda always looks like that if you’ve seen the movies but know he’s even more stupid looking

      • kdskipper

        He moves his head on that long neck, like a bird or a robot. It’s distracting to me.

    • AlwaysCC

      omg i thought i was the only one thinking about how easily she removed that eye makeup. i was so busy trying to figure out what type of remover she used…

      • Val

        Hiya, FCC!


        • AlwaysCC

          heeeeey, lady!

    • He’s actually Brazilian and English, oddly enough. I thought he was “black” too lol.

      • IJS

        Um, there are many Black people in Brazil, plus most of the seemingly-non-Black people have Black mixed into their ancestry. So yeah, he Black

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