When Viola Davis speaks, the whole world listens.
The Oscar-winning actress has been known to not only speak her mind, but to command the attention of audiences when she does so. Who can forget her epic speech at the 2015 Emmy Awards when she accepted her award for Best Supporting Actress. She powerfully and captivatingly echoed the cries of women of color in Hollywood, and everywhere for that matter, when she said:
"And let me tell you something. 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."
The How To Get Away With Murder star recently sat down with Variety to continue this discussion, as well as reflect on her new role in the upcoming film Widows, her upbringing, her hair, and why all of our stories deserved to be told.
There has been a lot of momentum building since Davis gave that speech in 2015. Hollywood is in the midst of a defining moment: they will either listen to the countless voices of women who align with the Me Too and Times Up movements, or they will not. Simply put, opportunity and gender parity in Hollywood is the most visible example of discrimination and pay inequality in workplaces all over the country. More and more women in Hollywood have spoken out against this, even at the risk of their careers. Thandie Newton, Monique, Nia Long and many others have used their platform to talk about the pay disparity in Hollywood, and Davis also echos the same sentiment when she says:
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"There are no percentages to show the difference. It's vast. Hispanic women, Asian women, black women, we don't get paid what Caucasian women get paid. We just don't. … We have the talent. It's the opportunity that we're lacking."
In line with all of this, Davis says that the desire for increased representation is at an all time high, and it is important for people to truly see that we aren't all the same. The black community shouldn't be relegated to only a few different types of images: we are complex, diverse and individually unique and people from all walks of life deserve to see us all in ALL our glory. She told Variety:
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"We're into a zeitgeist where people are fighting for their space to be seen...People have to know that there are different types of women of color. We're not all Foxy Brown. We're not all brown or light-skinned beauties with a big Afro. We have the girl next door. We have the older, dark-skinned, natural-haired woman."
Speaking of natural hair, Davis wowed viewers in more ways than one when she was the first black actress to win the Emmy for lead actress in 2015. When the actress chose to wear her own natural hair on the red carpet, she not only validated the natural hair movement, but she made us all feel seen. In her interview, Davis acknowledges what every black woman knows and ultimately contends with self-image in regards to our hair because of myths we've been taught all of our lives. She said:
"You're always taught as a person of color to not like your hair. The kinkier it is, the so-called nappier it is, the uglier it is."
In her new leading role in the film Widows, Davis not only gets to do dispel this myth by wearing her natural locks in the film, but it was actually at the suggestion of the film's director Steve McQueen. McQueen insisted that she wear her natural hair for this role because he wants to reflect reality and not "the artificial and idealized images of female beauty that Hollywood frequently projects." Although the role was initially written for a white actress, Davis is in a position to break down yet another barrier in film.
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The Fences star has always been open about the struggles she experienced in her last. She's spoken about growing up in abject poverty as the daughter of an alcoholic father and activist mother. She says that in sharing her journey, she gets to honor that little girl within her who had big dreams despite her circumstances. She reveals:
"If I didn't talk about my journey, I would be denying that 6-year-old girl who was hungry, who wet the bed, but who also was tough. She also dreamed big. She also was a lot of fun. A huge part of who I am is still trying to please her."
Many of us can relate to this sentiment. Pleasing that little girl within is what dreams are made of, but as we grow older we fall victim to the perceptions and judgement of others. If we aren't able to find value in ourselves, we leave it up to others to determine our worth. For Davis, she believes that we are all worthy in God's eyes and that "hustling for your worth" is a huge mistake. She says:
"People in general are always hustling for our worth...People in positions of power are always telling you that you're less than or you're unworthy. I'm a Christian. I reject that. We're born worthy. You need to take [unworthiness] off the table."
To read more of her interview with Variety, click here.
Featured image WILLIAMS + HIRAKAWA / Variety