Monday, January 28, 2013

Viola Davis at the SAG Awards

Yesterday on Twitter, during the celebrity arrivals before the Screen Actors Guild Awards show telecast began, I wrote "There must be better entertainment journalistic questioning other than 'Who did your dress?'"  Someone noted that the phrase is "Who are you wearing?"  She was correct.  Another person, a television blogger, lightly criticized me with these responses:  "people who watch red carpet arrivals want to know about fashion" and "just curious: why do you think people tune into red carpet show?"  I politely answered, "To see fashions.  But notice I didn't mention Red Carpet in my original Tweet.  I hear it a lot off the carpet now."  She was watching Red Carpet festivities on E!  I was watching a live Associated Press stream on the Los Angeles Times website.  The on-camera couple was off the Red Carpet but into fashion questions.  I believe entertainment reporters should do some homework.  Blend some good questions about the performer's work in with "Who are you wearing?"  Red Carpet coverage has become a one-hour department store commercial.  Did you see Viola Davis on the SAG Awards last night?

Marvelous!  She presented the award for Best Actor in a Movie.  If I was lucky enough to be in place for pre-show coverage, would I begin time with her by asking "Who are you wearing?"  No.  Because it's been asked.  I'd want my work to stand out the same way she wants hers to.  Viola Davis has an Oscar achievement on her resumé.  In the entire history of the Academy Awards, only two black women have more than one nomination to their credit.  Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis were each nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.  In the entire Academy Awards history -- which includes Oscar nominated actresses such as Hattie McDaniel, Dorothy Dandridge, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross and Angela Bassett.  Amy Adams has four nominations.  Marisa Tomei has three.  I'd ask Viola if there are more opportunities now for minority actresses. I didn't write "black" because it's not just black women.  Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story.  Hollywood didn't stuff her mailbox with good scripts afterwards.  She never got another Oscar nomination.  The Joy Luck Club (1993) was full of good Asian actresses.  Look at Viola Davis in that photo.  She should be getting offers to star in biopics about famous singers Dinah Washington or Nina Simone.  Ms. Davis presented the award last night to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln.

One of the other Best Actor nominees was Denzel Washington for Flight.

His Oscar nomination, the sixth for the two-time Oscar winner, makes him currently the black actor with the most Academy Award nominations to his credit.  He and Viola Davis starred in the Tony-winning hit Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences.
They won Tony Awards for their acting work as the middle-aged married couple dealing with changing race relations in 1950s America.  Fences won the 1987 Tony for Best Play and the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama.  There has never been a movie version of this acclaimed play.  I'd ask Viola Davis if Hollywood has considered a film adaptation starring her and Denzel Washington -- and then I'd ask about her dress.
The original production starred James Earl Jones.  By the way, African-American playwright August Wilson won another Pulitzer Prize.  His play, The Piano Lesson, was voted Best Drama of 1990.  It won the Tony Award for Best Play.  I mentioned in a couple of blog entries last year that there's never been a big screen adaptation of any August Wilson Broadway play.  Sally Field was on the Red Carpet.  She's an Oscar nominee for Lincoln.  She had a SAG nomination for it, also as Best Supporting Actress.
There's a woman who had to fight for respect in the Hollywood factory the way Norma Rae had to fight for respect in her factory.  She'd been Gidget and The Flying Nun on ABC sitcoms.  She even recorded an album as The Flying Nun.
 But, in the early 1970s, she was not taken seriously in Hollywood even though she did fine work in made-for-TV movies opposite veteran Oscar nominees such as Jackie Cooper and Eleanor Parker.  Field took new acting classes and triumphed in a made-for-TV miniseries as Sybil, a young woman under psychiatric care for multiple personalities.

Even after that victory, her agent told her she didn't have the right stuff for movies.  I'd ask if that ex-agent ever congratulated her and apologized after she won her first or second Academy Award.  Also...being an actor is not just Red Carpets.  You have to do the work.  Is it true that, during her audition for Lincoln, she had to do a long improv session as Mary Todd opposite Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln?  Her research must have been extensive considering that she got the part and an Oscar nomination.

Like Vivien Leigh (Gone With The Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire), Sally Field is a non-Southerner who won both her Oscars for playing Southern women (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart).  What is there about the character of Southern women that the native-born Californian connects to?  She went South again for Forrest Gump and Steel Magnolias.  I would've asked both Viola Davis and Sally Field how they felt the day they got their SAG cards and what was the project that got them into the union.  The last tweet I got from the TV blogger included this: "...I have no idea why people watch SAG Awards show -- least compelling awards show..."

I didn't tweet back that I watch because I've been a proud SAG member since 1988, thanks to the generous attention of filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles.  Also, with great pride, I served on the New York City SAG Board for one year.  I didn't watch the Red Carpet SAG Awards telecast on E!, as she did.  I stayed with with live stream on the Los Angeles Times.  The young woman doing live coverage for the AP spotted Sally Field.  That entertainment reporter asked "Who did Sally Field say she was wearing?"  She added that Field looked "...very pretty and very age appropriate."


  1. Viola Davis really deserved to win the Oscar for Best Actress last year for DOUBT. I really thought she was going to win it. No disrespect to Meryl Streep, who won for THE IRON LADY, but I thought Davis's performance was in a different class.

    Being Asian myself, I am rather frustrated that not enough Asian actors have been nominated for an Oscar in recent years. The last one to do it was Rinko Kiguchi for BABEL(2006). She was heartbreaking in that film but she lost, ironically enough, to another minority actor, Jennifer Hudson, for DREAMGIRLS. I try not to make race an issue as far as who gets nominated and who wins. To me, it's really about the work and who deserves it, but my Asian pride gets in the way sometimes and the omission of Asian actors for Oscar consideration is glaring. I guess there just are not enough roles out there for Asian actors in Hollywood.

    I admit. In the beginning, when I first started watching awards shows, I was into the whole fashion thing and what the stars were wearing on the red carpet. But it's become less important to me in recent years and now I focus more on the work of the actors, just like you. I try to stay away from the E! network when it comes to red carpet shows. I dislike a lot of the interviewers (especially Ryan Seachrest). They don't know anything about the work of the actors and ask stupid questions. However, for the SAGS on Sunday, I watched them because there was no other network doing the red carpet arrivals.

  2. I talked about this on national radio once, Thomas. I had to review BABEL. I felt the film was too long and a bit repetitive. However, that performance by Rinko Kiguchi thrilled me. It was a tremendous performance. What I brought up was the fact that NO Asian-American actor has ever won the Oscar. Miyoshi Umeki and Dr. Haing S. Ngor weren't born here in the States. I am still stunned that there was no Oscar campaign for THE JOY LUCK CLUB and not a single Oscar nomination. Fine performances in that.

  3. Oops. I meant Viola Davis should have won last year for THE HELP, not DOUBT. She was nominated for the latter, too, but that was a few years before.

    I'm guessing you have seen FLOWER DRUM SONG, a 1961 musical with a cast of Asian-American actors. If so, what did you think of it?

    Yes, THE JOY LUCK CLUB was excellent. A sprawling drama.

    1. I knew that you meant THE HELP. About FLOWER DRUM SONG -- not my favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and I love Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. I just felt the story was rather flimsy. However I watched it whenever it was on TV because of 4 actors I totally dig. They are Miyoshi Umeki, Nancy Kwan, Jack Soo and James Shigeta. When I was a kid, I went to see any Nancy Kwan movie I could. She was cool to me like Ann-Margret and Annette Funicello. Jack Soo -- a master at comedy. My generation grew up seeing Miyoshi Umeki and Jack Soo on hit ABC sitcoms. There were other Asian actors who should have had bigger opportunities. Like Tina Chen. Terrific actress. She's in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. As for THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I was hoping there would be a Best Supporting Actress Oscar campaign for France Nuyen. I wanted to interview B D Wong about this subject again on TV. When I interviewed him for Disney's MULAN (he did voice work), I mentioned that he should have been in JURASSIC PARK 2. He was the scientist who brought the dinosaurs back to life. Without him, there would have been no action. But his character disappears in the first half hour. B D's agent, at the time, wouldn't make him available to me for the NY television interviews. I'd pitched a week-long series on Asian-American casting for WNYW's GOOD DAY NEW YORK morning news show. The exec producer liked the idea -- if I could be B D Wong. It's a subject I'd still like to cover on TV at some time.

  4. I love hearing your stories about your past work, Bobby. Keep 'em coming.


Denzel Does Shakespeare

The New York Film Festival is underway at Lincoln Center in New York City. This is like free tickets to and free rides in Disneyland for fil...