KET Arts


The Program : Cast & Crew

Viola Davis

Viola Davis has enjoyed a flurry of major roles in recent high-profile films: Far From Heaven (2002), Solaris (2002), and Denzel Washington's directorial debut, Antwone Fisher (2003). A graduate of the Julliard School, her professional reputation still lies mainly in theater. Her role as Tonya in August Wilson's King Hedley II won her a Tony for Best Featured Actress. She received a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway debut in Wilson's Seven Guitars. In addition to Broadway, she has performed with the American Conservatory Theater, the Sundance Theater Institute, and the Trinity Repertory Company. Davis made her movie debut in 1996 in The Substance of Fire. She has appeared in three films directed by Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Traffic, Solaris), as well as Kate and Leopold (2001). Her television work includes several TV movies, notably Oprah Winfrey's Amy & Isabelle (2001), and guest-star appearances on such dramatic series as NYPD Blue, New York Undercover, Third Watch, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and CSI. She was a regular on City of Angels, a hospital drama with Vivica Fox and Blair Underwood. Davis is a native of St. Matthews, South Carolina.

Viola Davis

VIOLA DAVIS: My reaction to Poof!: there's always one thing that moves me about a play, and it was Loureen's declaration of "No." That was the moment when the violence stopped, that was the moment where she was kind of liberated from her situation, and that's what attracted me to it: That her life was not some apprehension and fear about the journey afterwards, after Samuel spontaneously combusts. She is without him and knows she is alone. Even though there is some fear and apprehension, there is that step toward liberation, that step towards embracing self love and independence, and the knowledge that there is something better beyond this. And not embracing the whole generational curse so many women have, which is this cycle of abuse, which she had the courage and the guts to stop. It is what attracted me to the piece.

"She thinks she is not being treated as bad."

VIOLA DAVIS: My character Florence is not at the point where Loureen is. She is not at the point of stopping [the abuse]. Probably she thinks she is not being treated as bad. She is probably not being slapped around. [The abuse] is still at the psychological stage. I think that she has gotten comfortable, and I don't think that she has found her voice yet, that she has the courage yet. So she is still in it, where Loureen is coming out of it. And that attracted me, because there are so many women in it. And no matter how many articles come out in the paper, no matter how many women come out on television and say, "No more drama in my life, women unite," there is still some fear that somehow if you stop it, there is nothing out there for you-that you somehow can't make it-that you will somehow die, perhaps, that your life will end. I think that is where Florence is. That is what she represents.

"Always a part of my life ..."

VIOLA DAVIS: I think domestic abuse has always been a part of my life, always, from as long as I can remember. Either my home or a friend's home. So you kind of see that as the norm. And what you don't see as the norm is a loving healthy relationship. So when you grow into adulthood, you have no idea how to cultivate it. It is almost that you have to learn how to be human again. And the legacy that it gives you and hands down to you is this whole idea that [the abuse] was your fault. That somehow, especially with women, that you feel as though it is your fault-that if you were good enough, if you were sweet enough, if you were pretty enough, that you could have stopped it. And that is the curse, because of course you have no power to stop that through being pretty enough or sweet enough and nice enough. So you grow up trying to be nice enough, and pretty enough, and sweet enough. And you stifle that voice inside of you. And you migrate toward men who don't treat you the way that you should be treated, but treat you the way you feel about yourself, which is guilty. To have the courage to stop that cycle is tremendous. It really is a tremendous challenge, I have to say.

"...a voice that is never heard."

VIOLA DAVIS: If I were to be frank and honest, politically incorrect, I would have to say I think that people don't think that the black woman's voice is valuable enough. It certainly is born out of racism. I always said that rape was not called rape until it started happening to white women. I think the black woman's voice should be heard because it is a voice that is never heard. I'm an actress. I've been a professional actress for 10 years, and I have to say that since I have been in the business, I just get this sense that you are kind of put in a bucket as a black actress or as a black woman. You are not seen as pretty, especially if you go past a certain skin tone. You are not seen as smart. You are not seen as feminine or sexual. You are seen as this strong, invincible, almost masculine figure. I think those are the preconceived notions that society has with black women. And perhaps that's why they have been treated the way they have been treated throughout the years.

And the reason why their voice needs to be heard is because all of those things aren't true. They simply aren't. There is obviously sexuality, perhaps different than a Caucasian woman's sexuality. There is an intelligence, a humor, and vitality. And I think that in stifling that, it's almost like people are validating history. It's the paper bag test. If you are lighter than the paper bag, you are beautiful. You're valuable, you're somebody. You're darker than the paper bag, you're nothing. It's the whole extension of racism.

The whole feminist movement somehow.... When white women were being liberated, and they were leaving their homes, and they were going out into the workforce, so many black women were going into their homes to be maids, and to be nannies, and to take care of other people's children. There is still that stifling effect, that holding-back effect. For me, it is maddening. Because it is not who I am, but how society sees me. And I would absolutely love to have the opportunity to break down all of those notions. The more the voice is being heard, the more you have-especially black women writers, writing for black women, all different sizes, colors-the more that is put out there, the more those notions are broken down. And they really have to be, because there are little black girls growing up and feeling like they are nobody. Not cute, not anything by the time they are six. And that simply can't happen anymore.