It is a truth universally acknowledged that Viola Davis will take home the Best Actress Oscar for her work in “The Help.” Though I had my problems with the movie, I have no quarrel with her winning — her performance certainly deserves recognition. And her win will probably revive discussion of diversity in cinema. Maybe we’ll even talk about how Davis won for playing a maid, just like the first black Oscar winner, Hattie McDaniel, did at the 1939 awards. Look how far we’ve come.
There has been progress (though not enough), and the proof can be seen in Kim Wayans’ performance in “Pariah.” Wayans (yes, from “In Living Color”) plays Audrey, who rightfully suspects her daughter Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a lesbian. The complexity Wayans brings to the part is reminiscent of Annette Bening’s nominated turn in “American Beauty”; she’s a woman desperately trying to keep her family picture-perfect, not out of maliciousness, but because having surroundings that appear magazine-ready hides her own hurt.
Wayans isn’t getting the press that Davis got — “Pariah” is an indie from a first-time writer-director and doesn’t have the Disney juggernaut behind it. But characters and, consequently, performances like hers are rare — rare for women, rare for African-Americans — and they should be celebrated as the achievements they are.