After my very positive experience listening to Tom Hanks narrate The Dutch House, I was eager to listen to another great actor for my next audiobook. I think I saw that Viola Davis’s memoir, Finding Me (2022), had great reviews, and I decided to give it a shot.
I admire Viola Davis as an actor, and I’ve seen her in a number of things. However, I really did not know anything about her life before reading this book. She has overcome unimaginable hardship. It is amazing that she’s even a functioning adult, let alone a wife in a happy marriage, a mother, and a critically successful actor.
Viola grew up in Rhode Island. She was bullied for being one of the few Black kids in her class, and she was also bullied for being poor. Her family often didn’t have hot water or electricity, so it was almost impossible for her to clean herself for school. Even teachers and school nurses would shame her for being smelly instead of asking about the circumstances in her home that might lead her to being in such a state.
In addition, her father was a raging, and violent, alcoholic. Davis said that her largest fear growing up was that her father was going to kill her mother. It was hard for Davis to stay awake at school because the fighting would keep her up at night. So, how did Davis make her way out of that situation? She became interested in acting after attending a summer program for disadvantaged kids. While there, she met kids who had lived through much worse than her, and it helped her survive her own situation. Mentors assisted Davis in applying for acting awards and classes, and it seemed like it really made a big difference in her life. Also, Davis had one very smart older sister that impressed upon her how important education was in order to get out of poverty.
So, Davis went to college, and then she was accepted into Juilliard. Davis found Juilliard very challenging, especially because their focus is on traditional, white roles, and white plays. She went on from there to do plays, and eventually made the leap to the screen with Out of Sight. She continued to have success and win many awards.
Below are the things that really stuck with me when listening to this book:
Davis dealt with racism ever since she was a kid. Not surprisingly, this continued in a different form in the acting world. Davis had a hard time getting acting roles, even after she became famous and won awards. And even after it became more acceptable in Hollywood for leading ladies to be Black, Davis was not the light-skinned, “white-featured” women they were looking for. For this reason, How to Get Away With Murder was a huge deal for her. The fact that she could play a multi-faceted, sexual woman as a leading role in a television series really meant something.
When Davis speaks about her father, she sees his full humanity. She does not minimize the violence and damage he did to her family–especially her mother. But she does understand where it came from, and she describes how much he changed as he got older.
Religion seems to be a large part of Davis’s life, which is not something I can particularly relate to, but it seems to help her.
When Davis talks about the movies she’s been in, she primarily discusses the people she worked with and what she thought about her role–not what the movie was about. Unfortunately, most of these movies I either haven’t seen (Fences, How to Get Away With Murder) or I’d seen them so long ago that I couldn’t really remember them. It probably would have been better if they had been fresher in my mind.
George Clooney loaned Viola Davis and her husband the use of his Lake Como villa when he heard they’d recently gotten married. The new couple had it to themselves and she said the experience was beyond amazing. Davis also says that Meryl Streep was very nice.
Finally, I need to see Fences.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.