Viola Davis at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards

Viola Davis at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards

Viola Davis paid tribute to the producers of How To Get Away With Murder last night for casting a "49-year-old dark skinned African-American woman who looks like me" at the Screen Actors Guild awards.

Fighting back the tears when she picked up the prize for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series at last night's ceremony, she appeared to hit back at a critic who said she didn't look like "the typical star of a network drama".

Speaking on the podium at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, she said: "Alright, when I tell my daughter stories at night, invariably a few things happen. Number one, I use my imagination. I always start with life and I build from there.

"And then the other thing that happens ... she always says, 'Mommy can you put me in the story?' It starts from the top up, so I'd like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Besty Beers ... and Pete Nowalk ... for thinking that a sexualised, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me."

Viola plays the defence lawyer Annalise Keating in the ABC series, and was referencing a New York Times critic who had previously claimed that show producers had cast a "less classically beautiful" actress than the likes of Kerry Washington or Halle Berry.

The piece, published last September read: "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." (sic)".

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