Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress in 2017 for her performance as Rose Maxson in Fences. She gave her acceptance speech on stage at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, wearing a crimson evening gown and clutching a gold statuette.
Thousands of famous people were in the audience, and millions more watched the speech online or on television. Few of them, however, could have predicted the difficulties Davis faced and the lengths she had to go to achieve her success.
Davis is revealing information about the incident. And she’s not afraid to say it. Davis’s upbringing in Rhode Island was marked by extreme hardship for her family as a result of poverty and trauma, but also by intense love and protection from her mother and siblings.
You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.
At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Lesson 1: Viola’s path to success was peppered with detours and setbacks.
Do you know the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell? In it, it is argued that heroic stories follow a consistent framework. As the hero triumphs over adversity and matures as a person, he or she comes to better understand who he or she is. Viola is a big fan of Campbell, perhaps because her life is similar to his. The hero’s journey begins with him or her receiving a “call to adventure.” Viola’s home in Rhode Island called her to adventure. She sat in front of a television that was wrapped in aluminum foil because it was broken.
On top of the broken set was a working TV, which served as a table. When Viola was a child, she noticed that the women she saw on TV were all white and blond. Later, however, she saw an actress who resembled her mom. Miss Jane Pittman was played by Cicely Tyson in the movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
Viola’s relief at seeing Tyson on the screen was comparable to discovering a way out of her horrible apartment in Central Falls. Viola’s adventure call had come. What was the rush? Intended to get into the acting business.
Viola’s first big break came not long after she was captivated by Cicely Tyson on television. In Central Falls, Rhode Island, a competition was being held for local talent. Viola and her sisters had faith in the white students at the Theresa Landry School of Dance. But it was to no avail.
They would have gotten in anyway. MaMama’s love of game shows inspired them to come up with an original skit. They were victorious, too! They did not worry that if they won the cheap softball set, they would use the softball bat to chase rats out of the kitchen. In the end, it was a win-win situation for them. Viola believes that losers are even better than winners. This couple worked in the entertainment industry.
It was no accident that they won the talent show. Viola often got in trouble with the lecturers because she fell asleep during lectures. Her classmates complained about her bad smell, which may have contributed to their sleep problems (they might have had sleep problems, too, if they had been waiting night after night with one eye open for their father to come in and beat up their mother).
Viola, on the other hand, shined in her acting class. Upward Bound, an arts program for gifted children from low-income families, accepted her. She dealt with severely disabled children who had constant health problems and with newly arrived refugees who told of bombs, murderous battles, and refugee camps.
Viola’s problems, no matter how severe, seemed less daunting in the face of such adversity. Later, she had to borrow $15 from a teacher to audition for and eventually win a national competition for high school students in Florida. She had never taken a plane before. For her talent, she was named one of the most promising young performers. Viola’s theatrical skills earned her a full scholarship to Rhode Island College.
If it seems that things were improving for Viola, they were. But at the same time, they were not. Around the same time Viola was named a Promising Young Artist, her family was evicted from their apartment. After months of not paying rent, their landlord asked them to leave.
A violent confrontation ensued, culminating in the eviction, during which MaDada attacked the landlord with a machete. In fact, their new apartment was even smaller. The Davis family was cut off welfare after it was discovered that MaDada was making a little money caring for horses.
Viola saw a way out of poverty thanks to her burgeoning acting career. Acting, on the other hand, offered an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. Theater was an outlet for me. Being on stage was a joyful event.
It is likely that Viola Davis was not the only one of her sisters who wanted to become an actress. However, it was her passion for acting that spurred her on in the pursuit of her goal. Dianne, her sister, also had acting ambitions but was far too practical to pursue them. “I want to get health insurance!” exclaimed Dianne to her sister. ”
Viola, too, wanted health insurance. Still, she longed for the stage even more. So she moved to New York City, where she planned to attend the Circle in the Square Theater’s summer conservatory. Although her school expenses were covered, she still had to work.
Therefore, she went to work during the day. There she took customer calls. She distributed flyers as a part-time job. She was a factory worker and assembled boxes. When she needed protein, she supplemented her diet with canned mackerel from the Asian market. She performed after hours. She enjoyed most of it, and enjoyed it very much. After the summer, she applied to programs at Juilliard, the best acting school in the country.
Viola left her play in Providence, Rhode Island to go to her audition at Juilliard in New York. She had to return to Providence that same evening for a performance, and she did not realize that the audition lasted three days. The audition lasted only forty-five minutes.
Who knows what the committee saw in the young black woman who calmly informed them that she had to perform two monologs in less than an hour, one as Celie in The Color Purple and the other as The Learned Lady from Moliere. Committee members were selected from other auditions, and the audition schedule was adjusted accordingly. Viola was included in the freshman group.
Just being accepted into Juilliard is a great accomplishment. There was no one happier than Viola. Her time there, however, was not always happy. When she returned to New York, she discovered a grimy studio sublet from a friend of a friend; a New York version of Central Falls. She began to wonder if the path she had chosen for her heroic journey was the best one.
She appreciated the rigor of her Juilliard education, but felt that the Eurocentric approach sometimes limited her ability to authentically express and portray her blackness. She felt her strength waning and her voice weakening. Should not she be more assertive and confident?
Viola won a scholarship to travel Africa and experience firsthand the continent’s rich cultural heritage by participating in a cultural tour that included traditional music and dance performances. She left Banjul, Gambia, and traveled to Bakau, West Africa.
The more she traveled, the more people she ate on the dirt floor of huts, the more songs she learned and sang, and the more she danced – dances that welcomed joy and dispelled pain and suffering – the happier and more serene she became.
Her ancestors had a spark of magic and power that she brought with her to New York. She was not just a bright young thing who studied the Alexander Technique and scene blocking at the Juilliard School. She was African American and danced with Mandinka women to the beat of djembe drums. Viola found a deep inner harmony in Africa. She never wanted to lose touch with it again.
Lesson 2: Although she had reached the pinnacle of her career, Viola was still struggling with the effects of her past experiences.
After graduating from Juilliard and performing on Broadway and on tour, Viola gained the kind of fame and recognition that most actors can only dream of. This next part is not a spoiler if you have been following theater, film or television for the past decade. Viola has become accustomed to being the center of attention when she is on stage and has participated in numerous premieres, film festivals and award ceremonies. However, there is one venue and audience that stands out from all the rest.
Viola always wanted to be an actress, and she always imagined herself on stage, surrounded by cheering fans and a shower of flowers. This happened in 1996, on opening night of the Broadway production of August Wilson’s play Seven Guitars. Viola embodied the main character, Vera. The applause was deafening when the curtain finally came down. Not only that, Viola’s parents were sitting in the front row.
Both her mother and father were dressed smartly. As parents, they could not have been happier with their daughter. Viola and her father had made progress in improving their relationship, which made this moment even more special. MaDada’s drinking had decreased, and Viola could see a new, more thoughtful side of her father.
For her performance as Vera, Viola received a Tony Award nomination. The rest of her career was a triumph from then on. Once again, she made her big breakthrough when she was chosen for the role of Mrs. Miller in the film Doubt. Although she was lucky enough to share the screen with such greats as Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Davis was still plagued by feelings of inadequacy.
She never made it to movie stardom, so to speak. However, her nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Doubt made it clear that she was the equal of these other great actors. After that, she starred in a number of films and was nominated for several awards.
How is it that this accomplished, celebrated, famous woman still felt like an eight-year-old running from her bullies in the snow when Will Smith asked her, “Who are you?” Oh, the irony of success. That success does not erase the effects of trauma. Despite her fame and fortune, Viola was still subject to the daily prejudices that affect Black women. As a Black woman with a darker complexion in Hollywood, Viola often faced racism.
She was well received by critics, but she did not get the roles she wanted. In reality, Black women are underrepresented in leading roles, and when they are, they are usually whitewashed with European-influenced facial features and hair.
Viola was not a type that could be categorized in this way. Whenever she applied for the role of a typical leading lady, she was rejected. For a while she worried that as an actress she would only portray drug-addicted mothers. Although she had achieved some success, Viola was still not universally popular.
And now comes Shonda Rhimes. The creator of the new series How to Get Away with Murder was looking for an actress to play the lead role of Annalise Keating, a tough but beautiful criminal defense attorney. Shonda had his heart set on Annalise and the beautiful Viola. Viola was nervous because this role would cross boundaries and strike a blow against racism in Hollywood. But to what extent would she succeed?
The insecure eight-year-old girl inside her was the source of her insecurity. But Shonda was there for her, guiding her to her true voice. Annalise comes face to face with Ophelia Harkness (Cicely Tyson), her nemesis from the season one finale. In fact, it was Cicely Tyson herself who sparked Viola’s interest in acting. At the climax of the scene, Annalise rips off her wig to reveal her real hair. Viola remembers feeling completely confident and stunning at that moment.
The relationship between Viola and producer Julius Tennon was a hidden factor that made her become a beautiful and strong woman. As a proof of their deep love, the couple has already tied the knot three times. With the adoption of Genesis in 2011, the two were finally a complete unit.
Viola’s therapist told her that the little girl she saw running through the snow was a survivor, not a victim. The therapist maintained that Viola was successful not in spite of the other girl, but because of her. Viola should not try to drive her away, she said. The best thing she could do would be to hug her lovingly.
Viola now realizes the implications of her therapist’s advice, but she did not realize it at the time. Still, she was unable to hug the girl. She was not yet ready to feel whole within herself; she still had healing work to do.
Years later, Viola was able to take her therapist’s advice and hug the little girl, thanking her for the strength and courage she had shown – thanks to How to Get Away with Murder, thanks to Julius and Genesis, and thanks to the work Viola had put into healing herself and her relationships with her family.
It’s clear that Viola has not changed much since she was a child; she’s just as tenacious, resourceful, and determined as she was then. Only now she is not trying to escape her trauma and the prejudices of the past. For her, happiness is the goal, and she is running towards it.
About The Author
VIOLA DAVIS is an internationally acclaimed actress and producer best known for her roles in television series such as “How to Get Away with Murder” and films such as “Fences” and “The Help.”
She has won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2021). In both 2012 and 2017, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Davis is also the founder and CEO of JuVee Productions, an artist-driven production company that produces and distributes independent film, theater, television and digital content.
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