I remember being speechless after watching The Help. My sister and I were left sitting on either side of the couch, laughing at the sight of each other’s reddened eyes while the credits of the movie were rolling.
I was at a loss for words and my heart was beating extremely fast. Not only did the story touch a very special place in my heart, but I was also in awe of Viola Davis’ performance as Aibileen.
“I want to be a part of something like that!” was my only thought.
Watching Davis’ performance in The Help was the ultimate moment, or rather the last push that convinced me to pursue acting seriously.
I hadn’t seen her in any movie before that, but she had clearly gripped my attention. So much so that I spent the following days with my good friend YouTube, watching as many ‘Behind the Scenes’ and interviews with her as I could get my hands on.
And the more I researched, the more I grew fond of her.
Here was little Viola Davis, born into a life of absolute poverty on a plantation in South Carolina. But instead of accepting her situation as a given, she defied the odds and fought for her dream.
When asked in an interview why she had such an amazing capacity for self-examination, Davis said:
“I had to dream big. There was no room for failure. Therefore, I couldn’t go the normal route. So I found myself at a very young age living that sort of life because I didn’t want to be like my ancestors, and everyone else. Everyone was an alcoholic or lived in poverty and accepted their lot in life. And anyone who wants to stray from the pack, I think, has to lead a more examined life.”
It required an active choice from her to “stray from the pack”, and she made it.
And that coming from a woman who, as a child, jumped in maggot-infested rubbish bins in an attempt to find food, points out the invalidity of my attitude. It gives me no excuse not to go for my dream to become an actress and tell amazing stories like Davis does.
The depth her characters have, sets her apart from many other actors. Her performances are real and raw.
I love that she didn’t let any of her past determine her future, even though she had her fair share of struggles with her past and the lack of opportunity because of prejudices she was confronted with.
During her speech accepting the 2012 Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, she said:
“I believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, truly being who you are. And I’ve spent far too long apologizing for that—my age, my colour, my lack of classical beauty—that now at the age of, well, at the age of 46, I’m very proud to be Viola Davis, for whatever it’s worth.”
How many apologies do we use that seem to justify our lack of initiative and zeal to reach our dreams?
Even though she came from a poor background, she managed to graduate from the Rhode Island College, having majored in theater and getting her honorary doctorate. On top of that, she studied at the Juilliard School from which she graduated at the age of 28.
Having both acted on stage and screen, she is the receiver of several awards including two Tony Awards and two Academy Award Nominations – and that for a girl whose immediate dream was a bar of soap or a meal.
In her journey, she has also grown to learn that “when you reach success, it lacks fulfillment, the last step is significance.” Together with her husband Julius Tennon, she has founded JuVee Productions, aiming to develop and produce independent film and therefore give the next generation of filmmakers and artists creative space for creating character-driven stories.
She urges her audiences to create art and not to blame the lack of opportunity on Hollywood alone.
I am eager to see what Viola Davis’ journey will continue to look like and what projects she will continue to take on in the future. Not only is she involved in many acting projects, but she is going out of her way to support charities and foundations that fight the very things she was exposed to: abuse, hunger, sexual abuse, poverty education… and the list goes on…
I am already fidgety, thinking about the upcoming release of Fences starring Davis and Denzel Washington.
I wish her all the best for her future projects and her family!