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Nancy Grahn backpedals unsuccessfully in racial attack on Viola Davis

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Photo credit: Joe Seer /

It’s hard to believe anything negative could be said about Viola Davis’ triumphant Emmy acceptance speech; but social media exposed another example of racial prejudice in Hollywood. Davis referenced Harriet Tubman (who she will play in an HBO-produced biopic) and received a standing ovation for her speech. Immediately following her speech, “General Hospital” actress Nancy Lee Grahn tweeted, “I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys,” she wrote.

The tweet was followed by a series of resentful statements by Grahn slamming Davis for both quoting Harriet Tubman and her choice to use her platform to shed light on the lack of roles for women of color. “Im a f—ing actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled.”

Grahn’s initial tweets were deleted but social media is a fair master and nothing is ever completely erased. After a public outcry and alleged internal threats from her network, Grahn attempted to switch up her position by praising Davis and attacking the attitude of separatism between black and white women.

“I never mean to diminish her accomplishment. I wish I could get her roles. She is a goddess. I want equality 4 ALL women, not just actors,” she tweeted.

“@nxssy I do 2. I think she’s the bees knees but she’s elite of TV performers. Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against.”

For an actress who doesn’t have a relationship with Davis (and obviously hasn’t read any of her interviews) to make a deliberate statement that Davis has never been discriminated against was in itself an admittance of racial insensitivity at the very least and pure racist intent at most. What I hope Grahn’s PR team is going to advise her to do is simply to refrain from social media and focus instead on doing great work. Overblown compliments spewed toward Davis and any other Black actor would simply reaffirm the idea that Grahn simply doesn’t get it.

It is my belief that PR practitioners should manage the social media accounts of clients that don’t understand the magnitude of public opinion. Once your private thoughts have been made public, there is no way to erase that impression. The only thing that erases a negative impression on public perception is to achieve and succeed at a higher level than before. As a 57-year-old soap star, it’s unlikely that Grahn will be given an Emmy-winning role to change her fate in public opinion.

Crisis PR has become more and more irrelevant as our culture has become more exposed. As an entertainment publicist, my formula is talent must be equal or greater to a clients’ flaws or inconsistencies. In the example of domestic Southern food guru Paula Dean, her racial statements were unacceptable; but I believe her talent and overall value to the culture will allow her to rebound in the court of public opinion, for Nancy Grahn, known for being a staple “General Hospital” star, the masses may not rule in her favor.

It’s also a good rule of them to refrain from criticizing other talent that are on a different level. If Grahn’s statements were made by another Emmy Award-winning actress, it wouldn’t have left such a bad taste in the public’s mouth. We expect high school students to throw stones at other high school students; we don’t expect elementary school students to aim publicly at university graduates. In Grahn’s case, I would advise her team to encourage their client to work harder.