August 11, 1965- Viola Davis:
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
Emmy Award and Academy Award winning Viola Davis has stated that she believes in the rights of LGBTQ families and is willing to fight for the Queer Community.
“I’m fighting for you. I believe in you. I think that I’m just as outraged as you are. I believe that gay rights and human rights are the same thing. I think you’re worthy of every right that every human being in this country, in this world, has been afforded…”
In spring of 2016, her character as Annalise Keating on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder revealed she has had a romantic relationship with a woman in the past. And lucky for her LGBTQ fans, that relationship continued into the next season.
Davis was born on her grandmother’s farm, a former slave plantation in South Carolina. She grew up with five siblings. Her mother had an eighth-grade education, but her father, who groomed horses at a racetrack, only got to fifth-grade. Her mother was a Civil Rights activist. When she was two-years-old, Davis was taken to jail with her mother after she was arrested during a protest.
When she was still a baby, the Davis family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where they got permission to live rent-free in a building slated to be demolished. The place was infested with rats. Davis and her sisters would retreat to a top bunk, where they’d wrap themselves in blankets to avoid being bitten, horrified at the sounds of rodents eating pigeons on the roof. When Davis was eight-years-old, she won a local talent contest. The prize was a softball set with a plastic bat. She used it to kill the rats.
Hunger was a main issue for her as a kid. After their welfare check would arrive, Davis’ parents would buy groceries, but it was never enough for a family with five children. She made friends with a boy whose mother would give her banana bread, and she joined a summer program that gave away Kool-Aid and doughnuts. She even went dumpster diving.
“At school I was always so hungry and ashamed, I couldn’t tap into my potential. I couldn’t get at the business of being me.”
She appeared in plays in high school, and received scholarships to study Theatre at Rhode Island College and The Julliard School. She made her film debut in The Substance Of Fire (1996), playing a nurse who had one line. She was soon landing roles on Broadway and Off-Broadway. She won Tony Awards for playing a mother fighting for abortion rights in August Wilson’ King Hedley II, and the long-suffering wife in Fences (2010).
I first took note of Davis’ amazing acting and presence in a small, but haunting role as Julianne Moore’s housekeeper in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven (2002), paying homage to Douglas Sirk’s grandest, most radical film, Imitation Of Life (1959), where Juanita Moore took the film archetype of the selfless black servant and turned her into a full human being.
In Antwone Fisher (2002), Davis makes a powerful impression in her single scene in the film, in which she barely speaks. It brought her an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
And of course, there is doubt about her work in Doubt (2008) where in just a few scenes she manages to show a character with a very complex, troubled soul. She plays the mother of a boy implicated in a Catholic school sex scandal. She slowly pours out her heart, revealing the desperation of a parent who’ll fight to make sure her son has a better life than she has. Despite first-rate acting from Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Doubt is best when Davis is onscreen. She has so much contained power in this performance: moving seamlessly between fury and anguish that seeps out. For her work, Davis received an Academy Award nomination.
Davis co-starred with Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard in The Help (2011), about the racial divide between white housewives and their African-American servants in a Southern town in the 1960s. Davis plays a maid who is interviewed by a young white writer for a book about the lives of “The Help”. Davis:
“The women in this story were like my mother, my grandmother. Women born and raised in the Deep South, working in tobacco and cotton fields, taking care of their kids and other people’s kids, cleaning homes.”
In the very popular film, Davis gives an especially nuanced, restrained, ultimately heartbreaking performance and won praise from critics and another Oscar nomination. Her friend Streep won for The Iron Lady.
Streep and Davis have been very public in supporting each other. During her Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech for Doubt, Streep gave props to Davis shouting to the audience: “My God, somebody give her a movie “
In January, when Davis received her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame Streep was there celebrating her. Speaking at the event, Streep said:
“Viola Davis is possessed. She is possessed to the blazing, incandescent power. She is arguably the most immediate, responsive artist I have ever worked with. She then went on to describe Davis’s ability to be “so alive she glistens” and to “write paragraphs with her eyes.”
Only a few days later, Davis’s introduced Streep when she received the Cecil B. DeMille Look-A-Like Award at the Golden Globes. Davis:
“You make me proud to be an artist… You make me feel that what I have in me: my body, my face, is enough.”
Not afraid to work in television, Davis has made guest appearances on many shows. She did Law & Order; but who didn’t? She played a serial killer, and she now claims it is one of her favorite roles. Davis received some negative reactions from the African-American community. Davis:
“I’ve had backlash for playing a serial killer … Anthony Hopkins didn’t, but I did. I have to follow my heart at the end of the day.”
Starting in 2014, Davis stars in Shonda Rhime’s edgy How To Get Away With Murder. In 2015, she won an Emmy Award for her work on the series. An emotional Davis thanked Harriet Tubman and also other African-American actors:
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy.”
Last year, Davis appeared in the drama Courtroom, the action film Suicide Squad, and she received a Golden Globe Award for reprising her stage role in the film adaptation of Fences, co-starring Denzel Washington. Davis also received an Academy Award for Fences. In her powerful speech, Davis said:
“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume the stories, the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”
“I became an artist and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
Before she went onstage to accept her award, Davis went out of her way to give Streep a kiss and hug.
After the Academy Award broadcast, in a year when Davis, and Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali and Barry Jenkins took home Oscars, Fox News’ vicious, vulgar, vacuous Putin apologist Tucker Carlson tweeted:
“Hollywood got the election wrong, and last night Hollywood got the Oscars wrong. Black People had to win because the moralizing, politically correct establishment willed it to. Yes, the Oscars were both an out-of-touch catastrophe and an insidiously rigged game.”
“I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end…”
I guess Davis was partly responsible for the Price-Waterhouse snafu. She is, after all, the only black woman to be nominated for three Academy Awards, and the only black female to win a Tony, Emmy and Oscar. In 2012 and 2017, she was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People In The World. She deserves to get political.