In an interview with The Telegraph, Harris said she struggled with saying yes to the role of Paula because she was trying to avoid the often negative stereotypes that can dog Black women in film. Paula is the crack-addicted mother of the main character Chiron, a role that has now given Harris a historic Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
“I feel that there are enough negative portrayals of women in general, and Black women in particular,” she said. “I grew up with this really strong mother - really intelligent, powerful, independent - and I’ve always admired her. She was part of a group of strong, powerful women as well. I very rarely saw those women represented then. So I initially said no to the role.’”
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Moonlight is a critics and award-season darling, as well as a contender to win the Best Picture award at this year’s Oscar ceremony. It has been nominated for eight Academy Awards.
As for Harris, she told the Telegraph that she took on the role once she rediscovered the humanity in Paula.
“The more layers I have to hide under as a character, the happier I am,” she said. “So with Paula in ‘Moonlight,’ despite the tortuous journey to get to her, once I found her was incredibly comfortable on set. Because she is so far removed. She is like the polar opposite to me.”
The 89th Academy Awards take place Feb. 26 on ABC.