And her recent sit-down at Tina Brown’s 9th annual Women In The World Summit in New York City was no different. With MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid by her side, on Thursday (April 12), the two ladies were the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic, as Davis spoke openly about the impact sexual violence has on women, the racism and colorism she endures in Hollywood and the potential of the #MeToo Movement.
(And let me tell you: As someone sitting in the audience, witnessing the Oscar winner take us all to church, that was an honor within itself.)
Dubbed “The Mighty Voice of Viola Davis,” the interview opened up with Reid asking the HTGAWM star if she believed that the #MeToo Movement was translating into equality and power for women. While Davis emphatically replied “yes,” it was clear that there was a caveat.
“I do see a moment becoming a movement. I do see a conversation happening. I am a producer and even in the producing realm, people are always looking for female driven narratives. They are very conscious about hiring female directors. Women are much more aggressive out there in terms of getting what they want,” she explained, later mentioning how the Harvey Weinstein accusers sparked a boldness from actresses from the red carpet and beyond.
But Davis stressed that female empowerment among Hollywood’s elite doesn’t necessarily trickle down to our country’s most vulnerable.
“I really want to reiterate to people that I don’t want for what’s going on in Hollywood to just be sort of a metaphor for what the Movement is.”
She added, “Once that sexual assault happens, women always say,’That’s the day that I died.’ That trauma escalates into side-effects that are life changing. Body [dysmorphia], the suicide, the addiction. You can go into any prison in this country and I guarantee you, you can trace it all back to sexual assault. And that 15, 16-year-old girl who is being pimped out, on the street and being trafficked in Detroit or Chicago who has been gang banged by 20 guys…that’s the girl I am always focused on. Bringing her from the time she’s traumatized to getting that rape kit to healing to becoming a survivor to becoming a overcomer.”
“That’s what we have to focus on. That’s impact…that to me is the power. That’s the sweet spot. It’s not just about an actress trying to promote her career.”
Later on, Reid shifted gears and asked Davis why in 2018, despite the veteran actress’ numerous accolades and masterclass talent, too many only view her as the “Black Meryl Streep.”
Davis looked to this nation’s history, vehemently blaming the lasting effect of Jim Crow and how colorism—in Hollywood and society as a whole—has impacted how dark-skinned Black women are seen and what roles they are tapped to play.
“Jim Crow did a number on us. It did,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Slavery happened…[Reconstruction] and then Jim Crow…and with the policies set forth, it kept us basically in bondage again. What happened is the signs went away, but what is left was the perception. What’s left is a mindset. So when you have…I don’t know say me…coming in as someone’s love interest, it doesn’t compute.”
Davis then further broke it down.
“Because no one thinks I’m pretty. No one thinks a Black woman who is darker than a [brown] paper bag is pretty. They don’t think she’s sexual. They find her more mannish. They associate her probably [with being] more earthy, more soulful, more sassy. I see you more with an apron than I do rolling around in bed with someone.”
She concluded, “That is the American mindset. And what it’s done is it’s seeped into art.”
Reid also wanted for Davis to speak not just to her acting, but her role as producer and what it will it take to have more women behind the camera making decisions on what gets made in Hollywood. As to be expected, the “Widows” star kept it real, saying sometimes you already have to be powerful and well-known in order to be a gatekeeper.
“You sort of do, unfortunately” she sadly says. “You have to be Viola Davis. You have to be Meryl Streep in order to do it. You have to be Julianne Moore in order to do it.”
Viola then offered some strong advice to those who do have influence.
“Once again, it’s running a great relay race where every single runner is fantastic, [but] that’s how you have to see your life, running your leg of the race. Passing the baton to someone who is able to run it the next leg of the race.”
She added however, “unfortunately there are a lot of people who drop it because they don’t have the ability to hold on to it [because] there are a lot of people in this business who have no idea what they are doing…They would rather fight for what kind of outfit the actress is wearing in that scene than how the scene is written.”
Finally, Davis stressed that when female producers reach these positions, they need to be confident in their worth and intentional about how they will pass on their legacy to emerging talent and voices.
“My whole thing is like Shonda Rimes said. [She said] when she won the Norman Lear Award, she got that award and she held it up and said ‘I deserve this award.’ I deserve it because when I walk into the room I ask for what I want,” she recalled.
“That’s the point you have to be at as a producer. To be able to walk in that room with the strength and conviction and understand that now you’ve risen to the point of significance. You’ve got the baton, what are you going to do with it?”
Yes, everyone: Queen Viola blessed us all by speaking a word. We just hope that everyone is open to listening to and accepting it.
Watch “The Mighty Voice Of Viola Davis” in its entirety:
Stay tuned to HelloBeautiful’s upcoming coverage of the Women In The World Summit, which will include an interview between Misty Copeland and Robin Roberts.