Actress Viola Davis has been working in Hollywood for over two decades, and in that time, she has made it her mission to change the image of black women on television.
Viola Davis is one of Hollywood’s leading ladies. Her movies include The Help, Fences, and Widows.
Viola Davis isn’t just an actress; she’s also a producer, director, and writer. And she’s using her platform to fight for better representation of black women in Hollywood.
During that time, she made it her mission to change how black women are seen in movies.
“I’m so tired of parts where people say, ‘She’s strong.’ What is that? Why can’t you just say she’s a woman who feels things deeply and passionately and she’s brave enough to go there?’ We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable,” Davis told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015.
This vulnerability and her undeniable talent have led to some of Davis’ most iconic performances.
Early Life and Career
Viola Davis was born in 1965 in St. Matthews, South Carolina, the daughter of a maid and a farm worker. Growing up, she faced many challenges, including poverty and racism. But she used these experiences to fuel her passion for storytelling.
Viola Davis grew up in Rhode Island, where she began acting — first in high school and then at Rhode Island College. After attending the Juilliard School of Performing Arts, where she studied acting and earned her degree in 1996.
It was 2001 when Davis’ first significant role came as Nurse Carrie Welton in the movie version of Stephen King’s novel, “The Mist.” But her role as Aibileen Clark in “The Help” made her a household name.
3 Examples of Times When She Changed the Movie Industry for the Better
The Help (2011)
In The Help, Davis starred as Aibileen Clark, a maid in the early 1960s who decided to help a white journalist (played by Emma Stone) write a book about the experiences of black domestic workers in Jackson, Mississippi.
The role earned Davis an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, making her the first black woman to be nominated in that category in over two decades.
But her role in The Help changed the way black women were portrayed in Hollywood.
In the past, black women were primarily domestic servants, such as maids and nannies.
Davis’ performance as Aibileen showed Hollywood that black women could play complex, fully-realized characters on the big screen.
In “The Help,” Davis gives a powerful performance as a black maid in the 1960s South who befriends a white woman (played by Emma Stone) who is writing a book about the African-American experience.
The film was a critical and commercial success, and Davis earned an Academy Award Nomination for her work.
In Doubt, Davis portrays Mrs. Miller, a mother whose son is accused of sexually assaulting a classmate.
Mrs. Miller is devoutly Catholic and initially unwilling to believe her son could be capable of such an atrocity.
The role earned Davis critical acclaim, with many reviewers praising her for her nuanced performance.
It also won her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play—the first black woman to win in that category.
Davis returned to the stage in 2010 and delivered another stunning performance in Fences.
She co-starred with Denzel Washington in this revival of the August Wilson play, portraying the wife in a long-married couple whose relationship is falling apart.
The two had great chemistry, creating a believable and compelling portrait of a troubled marriage shattered by infidelity.
How To Get Away With Murder (2014-present)
In How To Get Away With Murder, Davis stars as Annalise Keating, a criminal defense professor embroiled in a murder conspiracy.
The show has been praised for its diverse cast and representation of LGBTQ+ characters and relationships.
Awards and Nominations
In addition to her Oscar and Tony wins, Viola Davis has been nominated for three Golden Globes, four Emmys, and a BAFTA as Best Actress in a supporting role.
She is the first black woman to be nominated for all three awards in the same year.
She is the winner of an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards, and in 2021 she won a Screen Actors Guild award for her role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
In 2012 and 2017, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
She is also the first African American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, which she did in 2015 for her work on How To Get Away With Murder.
Davis won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for her work in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, making her the first black woman in history to take home the award.
She would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Fences (2016).
She received critical acclaim and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for her performance, in addition to her sixth Golden Globe Award nomination and her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, her fourth nomination overall.
Viola Davis is one of the most successful and respected actresses working today.
She is also one of the most outspoken advocates for change in Hollywood.
With her powerful performances and dedication to making Hollywood more inclusive, she is genuinely changing the movie industry for the better.
Throughout her career, Viola Davis has worked tirelessly to challenge stereotypes about black women on screen.
She has taken on deeply emotional, immensely complex, and unapologetically bold roles.
Consequently, she has opened up new possibilities for presenting black women in movies. As part of the Nike movie, Davis will continue to bring her talents to the table.
Viola Davis is one of the most talented actresses of our generation—and she’s using her platform to change Hollywood for the better.