Denzel Talks Colorism in Hollywood: 'The Easiest Thing to Do Is Blame Someone Else'

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington take a bow during the curtain call for the Broadway opening of Fences at the Cort Theatre n New York City on April 26, 2010.
emal Countess/Getty Images

Denzel Washington may not be so sold on the colorism argument in Hollywood, where quite a few stars with darker skin have voiced their own struggles trying to get roles.

In an interview with BET, the two-time Oscar winner largely dismissed the notion, pointing to his Fences co-star Viola Davis as a prime example when asked if colorism holds back darker-skinned actors and actresses.


"One of the best roles for a woman of any color in the last, in a good, good while, or at least any movie that I've been in, a dark-skinned woman has in this film. So as long as you're being led by outside forces or just being reactionary, then you won't move forward. You have to continue to get better," Washington said.

The star went on to suggest that colorism may not be the biggest issue actors may face when trying to secure roles, and he encouraged those around him to put in work.

"You can say, 'Oh, I didn't get the part because they gave it to the light-skinned girl,' or you can work, and one day—it might take 20 years—and you can be Viola," Washington added. "The easiest thing to do is to blame someone else, the system. Yeah, well, there's a possibility, maybe, that you're not good enough, but it's easy to say it's someone else's fault. But there's a possibility that you're not ready, and you can still blame it on someone else instead of getting ready."

Washington's comments may come across as a bit surprising, considering that Davis herself has candidly acknowledged the issue of colorism more than once.


“The paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking,” Davis said plainly in an interview with The Wrap back in June 2015.

“That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire,” Davis explained.


The award-winning actress directly referenced her How to Get Away With Murder character, Annalise Keating, when talking about skin color.

“And in the history of television and even in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me. My age, my hue, my sex,” Davis said. “She is a woman who absolutely culminates the full spectrum of humanity: our askew sexuality, our askew maternal instincts. She’s all of that, and she’s a dark-skin black woman.”


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Breanna Edwards is news editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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