Unless you’re Peter O’Toole, if your acting has warranted an Academy Award, you usually get one; just perhaps not for the role in which you deserved it.
And we can talk about how Whoopie got jerked for The Color Purple but won it for Ghost and how Sidney Poitier got jerked for A Raisin in the Sun but won it or Lillies of the Field, and Al Pacino winning for Scent of a Woman after nothing for either of the Godfathers or Dog Day Afternoon, but this upcoming Sunday, Viola Davis should finally take home the statue for her performance in Fences – and it was a fine performance – but anybody who knows from watching knows that Ms. Davis shoulda got that shit for Doubt.
To make that point to a friend, I just watched her standout scene in the movie again yesterday, a performance for which she was, in fact, nominated, and one in which she also stared down the woman touted as the Queen of All Acting, Meryl Streep, and gave if not better, than at least as good as she got.
Now, what makes this scene not only so special but also so, well, Black is not only the fact that Ms. Davis’ Mrs. Miller’s choices are literally “rock and a hard place” extreme, but the particulars of her life as they’re revealed.
She’s playing a woman who has clearly already calculated the possibility that her son is being raped by his male Catholic school teacher, but weighed against her other options, the fact that without the school, her son has little chance of getting into high school and the very real possibility that her husband, who “don’t like him” because of his “nature” would kill the child were another flaw revealed, she has chooses willful ignorance as the lesser of all evils.
Even a chauvinist like me marvels at a woman that can compartmentalize her job – which her meeting with Streep causes her to be late for – her relationship with her husband, her relationship with her son and her position in the world like Ms’ Davis’ Mrs. Miller does.
If the very choice between the continued rape or the survival of her son weren’t enough to have to deal with, then Doubt, set in the 1960s, a time when white women like Betty Friedan and her book, The Feminine Mystique, took the position that women couldn’t be content solely as stay-at-home wives and mothers, Ms. Davis’ Mrs. Miller, as a Black woman and probably through financial necessity, was already battling it out in the workforce, but hadn’t yet, like too many modern Black women, allowed white feminists to convince her that she didn’t need her husband.
One would have to hope that her relationship with that husband was more good than bad.
And while one might be tempted to side with Ms. Streep’s character, it’s important to remember that no individual in this universe has proven more schizophrenic than the American White Woman.
They endorse The Feminine Mystique, but they’re also the largest consumers of “billionaire” romance novels, enraptured with the notion of a man that could effortlessly “take care” of them financially.
And never forget, 53% of their non college-educated voted for Trump against a white woman.
So indeed, and although she doesn’t do it directly, Ms. Davis’ Mrs. Miller asks the two questions that all Black women have either felt like asking or actually had to ask a white woman at some point:
How can you make decisions as to what I should do from your perspective?
But most importantly, how dare you?