Symphony, seated

First, the context:

During a Thursday appearance on The View, Viola Davis fired back at the New York Times writer who recently said she was “less classically beautiful.” Last week, in an article that received plenty of backlash, Times writer Alessandra Stanley not only critiqued Davis’ looks but also referred to Shonda Rhimes as an angry black woman.

There was enough backlash, in fact, to provoke Times “public editor” Margaret Sullivan into an admission:

The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story. Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way that was — at best — astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.

For those of us for whom most of the Times is tone-deaf and out of touch, though seldom astonishingly so anymore, this wasn’t exactly news. And “less classically beautiful” inevitably implies a comparison: less than whom? Says the Times writer: Kerry Washington and Halle Berry. The question that remains: “But who isn’t?” Someone once asked me who, in my opinion, was the single most gorgeous woman on the planet. At the time, I said: “Either Halle Berry, or — who’s that woman who looks almost like Halle Berry?”

About the time I finished digesting the backlash articles, this appeared in the tweetstream:


Mr Dollar, sir, you speak truth.



  1. Roger Green »

    28 September 2014 · 7:44 am

    This hits on a whole longer issue about black features and beauty than I care to go into here, but why there used to be a Miss Black America.

  2. Bill Peschel »

    28 September 2014 · 8:29 am

    Whoa! Now that’s attitude.

    Years ago, I had used a negative descriptor in relation to an author, and was rewarded with a public dressing down at her book signing. While I will never touch any of her books ever again, it did have the benefit of reminding me to write what IS instead of what ISN’T.

  3. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 10:38 am

    Well, that Viola (who is she, accidentally?) is certainly not ugly – but to call her beautiful? And all that outrage implies that she, in fact, IS “classically beautiful”?
    Classical means- for a quick visual example – type of beauty of a classical (Roman, Greek) statue.

    That excessively-Photoshopped picture shows a) unnatural pose b) pose designed to flash the bling of bracelets, etc c) ton of mascara and other makeup (but no stylist with a powder puff to soak the sweat on her brow – why, she positively outshines her bling!) d) dress that in color almost dissolves with background drapery and in style looks like a bath wrap.
    And I only touched on her “styling”! Wait till I start on her body, hair (wig?) and expression on her face, untroubled by a single intellectual effort…

  4. McGehee »

    28 September 2014 · 10:43 am

    I’ve never been all that attracted to “classical beauty” anyway. I think beauty is a question of context, and boy has Viola got context!

  5. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 10:57 am

    …as if the main criteria of beauty is what Mr. McGehee, personally, appreciates

  6. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 11:11 am

    The whole brouhaha was about this unfortunate (for the journalist) expression of “classical beauty”, wasn’t it? Then let’s not change the subject.

    As to Angry Black Women – I am so tempted next time one of them becomes “angry” in my presence to show her I can be even angrier – and in my case, WITH a reason.

  7. CGHill »

    28 September 2014 · 11:50 am

    For that matter, neither Halle nor Kerry looks that much like Greek statuary.

    And I assume all photographs released for public consumption are excessively Photoshopped by default.

  8. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 12:58 pm

    Did Alessandra Stanley mention either of them when talking about “less then classical beauty”? If not (and she didn’t, I read the article), what’s the point of bringing them as an argument?
    All photographs are photoshopped, but good ones are believable. Unlike the one Mr. $$$-signs adores. It’s the same difference between good and bad design, tasteful and crude, rude and tactful.
    Besides, talking of Halle – as much as I admire her in unusual-for-her role in new series Extant, she looks much better when she stands in place and not moving, let alone running. Something with her posture…her legs…either she’s bowlegged, or piggeontoed, or simply not used to keep her torso straight when running, but it’s quite noticeable.

  9. CGHill »

    28 September 2014 · 1:04 pm

    Then you missed this paragraph somewhere along the way.

    As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series Extant.

    And “slightly menacing” works well with this picture.

  10. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 1:30 pm

    True, I didn’t see that.
    But isn’t she right? In comparison to HB (I don’t know who the other one is, I don’t watch pseudo-White House movie fantasies -they smell like blatant lefty propaganda in guise of fiction), so, in comparison to Halle Berry woman in blue dress looks crude, vulgar, almost drag-queenish. In other words, same person from this post, just washed, cleaned and dressed according to certain less-than-educated dream ideal.
    As to “slightly menacing”…some think it’s a compliment for a virtue.

  11. McGehee »

    28 September 2014 · 5:32 pm

    Somebody once said something about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Some of us are more willing to behold than others.

  12. McGehee »

    28 September 2014 · 7:46 pm

    As for my own standard of beauty, it excludes women who are debilitatingly insecure. I think cats should have fur and pointy ears — not the right to vote.

  13. Tatyana »

    28 September 2014 · 9:53 pm

    Ge[h]ee, I touched the nerve.
    Seems it’s evening of confidences, so I’ll share one, too: my own standard of a decent person (man or woman) is somebody who speaks directly and is not afraid to take responsibility for (her)his insults.
    Funny thing I noticed: in English, unlike Russian, “cats” could refer to either gender.

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