Viola Davis would probably not be the first name that comes to mind for most people if asked to specify an award-winning actress. My only acquaintance with her work was a random discovery of the TV series How to Get Away with Murder when it was screened on eTV a few years ago. Something about the gritty legal thriller and its imposing female lead had me engrossed.
Since reading her 2022 autobiography, I now know that Viola Davis has won all the prestigious performance awards – the Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar, as well as a recent Grammy for the audio narration of her memoir; to date, only 18 actors have achieved all four and earned the distinction of becoming an “EGOT”. She is also a graduate of the Juilliard School’s 4-year drama programme, although she felt that she didn’t really fit into the euro-centric training. That’s a truly impressive list of accomplishments, but reading her story leaves you in awe of what she had to overcome and how hard she worked to reach the pinnacle of her craft and a place of self-love.
Viola was born into poverty in the US and grew up as one of six children in a home where alcohol abuse and domestic violence were her backdrop. She describes rat-infested living conditions in buildings that were fire hazards, no heating or hot water in bitterly cold winters, and regular hunger. As a child, her dark skin and chronic bed-wetting added to her torment. Fortunately, there have been a few guiding lights in her life: her oldest sister loved school and encouraged Viola to learn and work towards something better, a teacher and a counsellor urged her to enter an arts talent competition as a teenager, there were friends and mentors as she pursued her acting career, and (after a friend told her to get down on her knees and pray for the kind of man she wanted) her husband of the past 20 years.
In her book, Viola shares her long, gruelling journey to success and self-acceptance, including therapy in later years as she struggled to embrace the traumatised child she had been and to see herself as worthy.
A copy of FINDING ME by Viola Davis is available in the Chartered Client Library for short-term loan.