The actress and producer, winner of the 2022 Women In Motion award, was the first guest of the talks organized by the Kering group at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. She returned to her career, and the fights she had to fight.
She is now one of the most important figures in American cinema. Viola Davis is an actress, producer, won an Oscar for her role in Fences (2017), starring Denzel Washington. Discovered by the general public in The colour of feelingsin 2011, she was watched by millions of people in the series Murder. At 56, Viola Davis is a powerful woman. A position she fought for. Winner of the Women In Motion 2022 prize, which distinguishes women making the 7th art evolve, the American was the first guest of the talks organized by the Kering group at the Cannes Film Festival in partnership with Madame Figaro. She spoke about her journey, her struggles, and the anger that often pushed her to lead them. A healthy feeling, when used well.
A life of fighting
This anger, Viola Davis felt it very early, when the boys of her school told her that she was “ugly and black”. An anecdote that she recounts in her autobiography published this year, Finding Me (published in the United States by HarperOne, not yet translated), written during confinement which caused her a real “existential crisis”: “Not only were we living through a very anxiety-provoking period, but there was also the Black Lives Matters movement , everything that made it hard for people to connect with each other and yet needed it, for their mental health… It made me want to take stock.”
In Cannes, Viola Davis returned to the hardships and discriminations of which she was the victim. Growing up in a poor family of 6 children, with an abusive father, forged her strength and determination: “My childhood made me a survivor. I have always fought,” she declared during the talking. Obstacles that pursued her for a long time during her career: “All the times I was rejected because I was not thought to be pretty enough for a role broke my heart. If I was blonde with blue eyes, things would have been very different.”
“My childhood made me a survivor. I have always fought”
Her fights, Viola Davis led them with anger as her main weapon, that of “little 8-year-old Viola, who pushed me out of the place to which we wanted to assign her”. It is this same feeling that pushed her to set up, with her husband Julius Tennon, her own company, Juvee Production, in order to imagine, herself, the roles that are always refused to black women: “Anger has value when it is healthy. It provokes movement, action.”
Believe in yourself no matter what
Today, Viola Davis fights for black actresses to obtain roles that come out of stereotypes: “If I want to produce the story of a black woman whose son was killed in a shooting, no problem, I will get there. But for that of a 56-year-old woman in crisis, who decides to go to Nice and sleeps with 5 men, it will be more difficult. Because black actors are not yet offered enough roles dealing with spiritual awakening or sexuality.
The one who plays Michelle Obama in the series The First Lady (available on Showtime since April 17 in the United States) reminds us that the representation of powerful black women in cinema remains a key issue for younger generations. To which she advises not to compromise when it comes to believing in yourself, even if “ambition does not avoid having doubts”: “Your job in life is to disappoint as many people as possible if it allows you to be in tune with yourselves.” The most precious of mantras.