Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recognizable Natural: Viola Davis

Viola Davis was born in St. Matthews, SC and after a period of time moved with her family to live in Central Falls, Rhode Island.  Her family was the only minority family in the town.  They lived in poverty and she suffered being called racial slurs and being bullied as a child there.  She found her love for the arts in high school and followed that love to college and received formal training in theatre at Julliard.  She has accumulated a vast body of work including shows on Broadway, most recently with Denzel Washington in Fences, a reoccurring TV role on Law & Order: SVU, a brief performances in Kate & Leopold, Antwone Fisher, and Doubt.  Her 11 minute scene in Doubt opposite Meryl Streep garnered her first Academy Award nomination.

After receiving the Screen Actor's Guild Award for her performance in "The Help" she was featured in a LA Times Magazine high fashion spread showcasing her radiant dark skin and newly cropped natural haircut.  In her interview with Oprah, she said that while she would probably go back to the wigs & weaves for her work she realized that she'd worn them for so long that they had become crutches to her and she no longer needed a crutch.  I think she looks absolutely amazing!

Today I had an opportunity to watch "The Help".  Though this movie had received rave reviews in mainstream America, I am very sensitive to scenes that portray African American characters during slavery or the Jim Crow time period so I'd yet to see it.  After watching the powerful interview that Oprah conducted with Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis on her pre-Oscar special, I felt compelled to watch these ladies' work.  While the racism (both direct and indirect) that these women endured was palpable, so was the dignity and spirit of the maids & caretakers portrayed.  I felt their pain, but I also felt the pride with which the went about doing their duties.  From the reputation that Minnie had earned for her cooking abilities,("Minnie don't burn no chicken.") to Aibilene's concern for the childrens welfare that was entrusted into her ("She sleeps in her mess until I come in the morning to change her.  [Her mother] don't need no children. Write that down.")  In the face of fear and the threat of retaliation, they shared their stories so that others could have insight into the lives that they lived.  What courage that took!  I hope that Octavia & Viola feel someone that we "got it."  I did not see them as "mammy" in this movie but rather strong women who held their head high despite their treatment to provide for their families. 

I often think about what I would have been like if I had been born during the Civil Rights era.  I can speculate, but you never know unless you're actually put in those situations during those times.  What I do know is this, I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices that my ancestors made so that I could have a better life.  As Viola Davis shared in her interview with Oprah, "I am the dream of my great-grandparents and grandparents."  And with their dream on my shoulders and those who shall come after me, I challenge myself to always strive to work harder, do better, achieve more.  After all those before me have gone through, what a disgrace to their memory to do otherwise.

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