Inspiring Women Series – part 1: Viola Davis

Photo from her Instagram page @violadavis, taken by her daughter Genesis.

Who she is

Viola Davis is an actress many will know from her part as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. Davis was born in South Carolina, but not long after her birth she moved to Rhode Island. She is the youngest of six children. Her childhood hasn’t been easy at all. Viola says to have grown up in poverty and that her childhood was taken away from her.

During an interview with Tina Brown at the ‘Women in the World Salon’ in Los Angeles (you can watch the full interview here) she stated that there were even rats in her room while trying to sleep at night. Despite this difficult start, Viola Davis has achieved a lot in her life. After her studies at Rhode Island College, she went to Juilliard School, which meant the beginning of her career as an actress. In her personal life she married Julius Tennon and together they have an adopted daughter; Genesis. Her husband also has two children from a previous marriage. 

What she does

Viola Davis started her career with bit parts and small roles. She was also in productions off and on Broadway. The critical response on her acting was very positive from the start. In the meantime, Davis has won multiple awards. She was the first Black actress to achieve the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’, which means to have won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony in an acting category. On top of that, Davis received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017. Time Magazine also named her one of the 100 ‘most influential people in the world’ in 2012 and 2017.

Yet, as a Black woman she still meets a lot of challenges. She, for example, receives less opportunities and gets paid less than White coworkers. She addresses this problem often in interviews and speeches. Furthermore, she actively speaks up in favor of human rights, equal rights for women and specifically for women of color. Today Viola and her husband have their own production company: JuVee Productions that brings inclusive stories with actors that represent society as it is.

Why she’s an example

Viola Davis is an example in many ways. Despite her difficult start in life, she made a successful career and now advocates for better living conditions for the people who don’t have a voice or that find themselves in the same circumstances as she used to be. For example, since 2014 she collaborates with ‘Hunger Is’ to eradicate childhood hunger in America.

She also actively defends women’s rights and rights of women of color specifically. At the Women’s March in 2018 in L.A. she gave a powerful speech (you can watch it here). She spoke about the staggering numbers of sexual violence against women. She also addressed #MeToo and the duty everyone has to stimulate progress every single day. She said we shouldn’t only fight for the things that affect us personally, but also for the rights of everyone: as long as we’re not all free, nobody is.

Read a part of her speech here:

“I am speaking today not just for the ‘Me Toos’, because I was a ‘Me Too’, but when I raise my hand, I am aware of all the women who are still in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don’t have the money and don’t have the constitution and who don’t have the confidence and who don’t have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that is rooted in the shame of assault and rooted in the stigma of assault.”

“Nothing and no one can be great without a cost. I am always introduced as an award-winning actor, but my testimony is one of poverty, of one being assaulted and very much seeing a childhood that was robbed from me. I know that every single day when I think of that, I know the trauma of those events are still with me today … That’s what allows me to listen to the women who still sit in silence.”

Because of the effort Viola Davis puts into the fight for women’s rights, into addressing systemic racism and because of the fact she literally started from nothing and achieved so much, she is a very inspiring woman

More about the Inspiring Women Series

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