October 2003
The Human Stain : An Interview with Allison Davis

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

An Interview with Consultant Allison Davis

When you think of films that deal with race, you have to wonder whom the filmmakers go to get advice from as far as authenticity or experience. In "The Human Stain", Allison S. Davis served as a consultant to the production and makes his feature film debut in a minor role as a bigoted passenger on a dining car. As a person of color, Allison is proud of his heritage, but with extremely light skin, he often appeared to others as a white man. He was able to see and hear what others thought of blacks as they were unaware of his race. For the last 30 years, Mr. Davis has practiced law in Chicago specializing in real estate and community development. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Mr. Davis speaks about his position as a consultant to "The Human Stain".

How did you get brought into this film as a consultant?

AD: I have known Tom Rosenberg for about 30 years and we saw each other on the golf course about two years ago and he had asked if I had read "The Human Stain". It didn’t trigger anything, so asked, "What’s it about?" He then started to tell me about this professor in a New England college. I then said, "Oh, yes, I read the review in the New York Times, but I was told it was loosely based on his life." "I had intended to read it, but it slipped away when it came out during the summer" is what I said next. He asked if I could now read it and I told him, I would be happy to do so. The next day the book showed up on my desk and I read it in like 2 days and was fascinated by the story. It really grabbed me. I called Tom and told him the book was unbelievable. We had a discussion and asked if I wouldn’t mind reading the screenplay. I got the document and the scenes which interested me was the scene with the family where Coleman’s father brought up the issue of boxing and the one where he rejects his family and the one with the sister after the funeral. There’s a scene where the family is having dinner and the family is leaving to catch a train. I thought that was unbelievable. I called him back and told him I thought it was better than the book.

What is your opinion about the casting of Anthony Hopkins?

AD: Well, I keep hearing that is what people are quivering about. Every black person I talked to doesn’t have a problem with it. I think people see Hopkins as Hopkins and not the character that he’s playing. The reason people are able to pass if because they can’t be detected.

How about yourself? Did you let yourself pass in some situations because people didn’t know the difference?

AD: I’m trying to think if I were ever in a life threatening situation. My mother, who was fair-skinned, told me that when I went away to prep school and college to take photographs of my family, which is what I always did. People say things and depending on the context, take issue before I tell them who I am. I joined a country club that was all-white and I made sure that everyone knew who I was so that when they made their decision there was no confusion.

When folks leave the theater after seeing "The Human Stain", what do you want them to walk away with?

AD: I have a different view than perhaps half or two-thirds of the people who will see the film, but the movie is about having confidence in your own self and the character Coleman Silk is a great classics scholar and he should have been comfortable in that achievement, in that persona. For some reason, he was insecure about that being sufficient carrying the day, so he made some choices. Rejecting your family is a pretty elementary choice and it’s a terrible thing so there are a lot of similarities in that film to my own family. My father (William Allison Davis) was a professor, a distinguished one, and was the first African American tenured professor at a major white university (University of Chicago) in this country so he went through the same debate. He wanted to teach English at Williams but they wouldn’t hire him. His first teaching job was at Hampton and then at Dillard. He made different choices and he had a different appearance then. No one would mistake him for being white if the option weren’t open but both of his siblings were very faired and both were academics and achievers on their own.