Viola Davis has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most influential actors, giving incredibly powerful and stand-out performances in every production she is involved in. The actor has four Oscar nominations to her name (making her the first black woman to achieve this), including one win of Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in the Denzel Washington directed Fences. Countless other accolades, such as BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards have been awarded to the star, demonstrating the sheer talent that Davis possesses.
However, Davis began her life living in rat-infested apartments due to “abject poverty and dysfunction”. She even went to prison with her mother when she was just two years old after arrests were made at a Civil Rights protest. Davis was exposed to the harsh realities of life from a young age, and it is clear within her work that these experiences have helped to inform her choice of roles, often starring in films that amplify otherwise marginalised voices and stories.
In 2011, Davis starred in the comedy-drama The Help, the story of a young white journalist and her relationship with black maids as she attempts to expose the racism they face working for white families during 1960s America. On starring in the film, Davis initially said: “I feel like I brought my mom to life; I’ve channelled her spirit. I channelled the spirit of my grandmother, and I’ve kind of paid homage to how they’ve contributed to my life and the lives of so many people.” Although Davis now regrets working on the project, believing that it does not portray the black characters accurately and caters to a white audience, this only spurred the actress in the direction of films with greater representations of black characters.
In fact, in 2018 Davis undertook the role of narrator and executive producer for the docu-series Two-Sides, which highlighted the extent of police brutality towards African-Americans. She also worked on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, alongside Chadwick Boseman in his last ever role, one which earned her an Academy Award nomination. The film highlighted the life of Ma Rainey, also known as ‘The Mother of Blues’, and received high praise from critics, particularly for Davis’ outstanding performance. With every role that Davis takes on, her dynamic and compelling performances never fail to impress. From her ten minute scene in Doubt, to which Roger Ebert said was “the heart and soul” of the film, to her leading role in the ABC crime thriller How to Get Away With Murder, Davis’ presence is far from forgettable.
In an interview with Oprah Daily, Davis shared some of her favourite books that have influenced her and encouraged her to foster a strong sense of self. The list includes the classic epistolary novel The Color Purple, written by Alice Walker. The book is a moving story of a poverty-stricken young African-American girl who is horrifically abused by her father, exploring themes of racism, gender roles, violence, and self-discovery. Furthermore, Davis is also a big fan of the author Brene Brown, citing two of her books on her list. These are Atlas of the Heart, and Braving the Wilderness, the former an exploration of eighty-seven different human emotions, and the latter about finding the courage to seek true belonging.
Viola Davis’ favourite books:
- The Color Purple – Alice Walker
- Atlas of the Heart – Brene Brown
- Braving the Wilderness – Brene Brown
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
- The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle