Why Cicely Tyson Combing Viola Davis's Hair On HTGAWM Was The Blackest Thing I've Ever Seen This Week

Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson pose for a photo during the National Domestic Workers Alliance Honors at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Nov. 14, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Kris Connor/Getty Images for National Domestic Workers Alliance)

I am convinced there is a writer — or, perhaps, a group of writers — on the How to Get Away with Murder staff whose sole job is to think of and craft the single Blackest scene they can possibly film that week while maintaining the show's integrity. Perhaps their job title is 'Blackness Grip" or "Cornel West" or something. Why do I believe that? Well, just let me say this…

Last night, I attended a screening of August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, the new American Masters documentary on the iconic Pittsburgh-born playwright. The doc — which was amazing — detailed Wilson's upbringing in the predominately Black Hill District, his involvement with the Black Power movement, and his everlasting love for Blackness; Black customs, Black history, Black colloquialism, Black stories, Black everything. Many of Wilson's friends, family, and peers — including Charles S. Dutton, Viola Davis, James Earl Jones, and Laurence Fishburne — also spoke of this love, often referencing how his words captured the rhythms and cadences and essences of Blackness in a way they'd never seen on stage or screen. This screening took place at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. There was a panel discussion after the screening. Included on this panel were Phylicia Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson; both of whom also spoke of Wilson's visceral and bone marrow-deep love of Blackness.


This was perhaps the single Blackest event I've ever attended. A group of beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black people discussing the beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black work of a beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black man. All taking place in a center named after him.

And it still wasn't as beautifully, intentionally, conspicuously, and unapologetically Black as Cecily Tyson combing Viola Davis's hair last night on How to Get Away With Murder.

I watched it at my cousin's place after the screening. It was her birthday and she's bougie, so The Wife Person and I brought her some Thai food and a mini red velvet cake, and we all sat in awe as the sound of Davis's hair becoming combed by the 511-year-old Tyson jumped through the screen.

I won't even attempt to unpack that scene because, well, I don't know if I can. At least not before watching it 17 more times and reading The Bluest Eye again. I just know that it was 8-rock Black. VantablackMa Rainey's Black Bottom but only if Ma Rainey's Black Bottom took place on an event horizon Black. "I've run out of ways to describe its Blackness" Black.


And I hope that Blackness Grip gets a raise.

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About the author

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for GQ.com, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)