Hatred inspired Viola Davis, she tells W-S audience

Hatred inspired Viola Davis, she tells W-S audience
April 07
00:00 2016



Award-winning actress Viola Davis makes no apologies: She said overcoming obstacles such as poverty and both racial and sexual discrimination is what makes her a true hero for women of color everywhere.

And her determination to take control of her career has propelled her to new heights. Davis, the star of ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” spoke on the campus of Wake Forest last weekend as part of the sixth annual Reynolda Film Festival.

Davis was raised in the rural area of Rhode Island. She grew up poor and was constantly teased by her white classmates for being different. Although she admits it was hard to endure, she said she used the hatred from her classmates as inspiration.

“You never know what’s going to inspire you,” said Davis, “Inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I was determined to use all the bad things they said about me as fuel, and that’s exactly what I did.”

“I overcame all of that and returned with the sweet elixir. That’s the journey of a true hero.”

Davis is the first African-American woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She also won the Stage Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance in a Drama Series, and the Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series.

Davis told the more than 1,000 students in attendance that the moment she saw Cicely Tyson star in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” she wanted to become a actor. Davis mentioned what she saw from Tyson was magic.

“In the midst of this poverty, it was like the wind stopped blowing and the air stopped moving,” she continued. “It was art. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”

Over the years, Davis has starred in a number of well-known films, including “Antwone Fisher,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin,” “Doubt.”

In 2011, Davis was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her role as Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” The film details the lives of African-American maids during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Davis said, although she enjoyed working on the film, she didn’t like the movie itself because it was “watered down.”

“It wouldn’t have been the movie I made,” noted Davis. “It was supposed to be from the maid’s point of view, and if it was, it would be rife with more anger and way more pain.”

Although the film wasn’t her favorite, after “The Help,” Davis expected her career to skyrocket to new heights, but that didn’t happen. Davis said, even as a well-known actor she still was only offered roles that were common for women of color.

Davis decided she wanted to change that narrative, not only for herself but for all women of color.

With the help of her husband Julius Tennon, Davis has started to produce independent film and TV projects through a production company called JuVee Productions. The company’s website is

“I denounce everything this industry and bad narratives have told us we are as women,” said Davis. “A hero takes possession of the treasure, and the treasure was that I wanted to be part of changing the narrative for people specifically women of color.”

Before leaving the stage in heroic fashion to the sound of a standing ovation, Davis encouraged students to follow their dreams and not to fear failure.

“To overcome whatever obstacles you may be facing. you’ve got to dare to fail greatly,” continued Davis. “You have to dare to strip your heart away and show the world who you really are.”

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