A Netflix Special Event” – Things We Learned


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She’s opening up doors for all the young Black girls, and we love to see it!

Viola Davis is an Academy Award-winning icon who’s made her mark in the industry from her memorable on-screen performances, and it’s clear to see that there’s so much more to know about her success story.

Dan Macmedan / Getty Images

If you didn’t know, last week Netflix released Oprah’s exclusive interview with the soon-to-be author, and she talked about her upcoming memoir Finding Me. Here’s what we learned from it:


Content note: this article contains mentions of domestic violence, abuse, and racism.


The pandemic encouraged Viola to write her memoir after feeling disconnected from the world.


I’m sure we’ve all questioned our purpose or felt lost at least one time in our lives, and Viola herself admitted that she too struggled to find a connection with the rest of the world and meaning in her life.

“I believe that I was having a bad existential crisis.” Viola told Oprah, and added that her expectations for fame were that of joy and satisfaction, “like Cinderella when Prince Charming comes in.” 

She added that instead, the feeling of exhaustion would take over, and she asked herself “What’s home to you, and how do you get at it? The only thing I could think to do was to go back to the beginning of my story.”


Viola had an awful time at school, and remembered other classmates throwing bricks at her.


For Viola, growing up in Rhode Island was anything but smooth sailing as she shared that she and her siblings experienced poverty, racism, and sexual abuse. At home, she explained how an infestation of rats took over the family’s cabinets and counter and made her too scared to go into the kitchen.

And school life wasn’t any better, as she recalled getting tormented by her peers who threw bricks at her and called her racial slurs. She added that getting called those racial slurs really affected her, and even though she would try to mask it, inside would always be “the damaged little girl who really, really believed she was ugly.”


At the age of 14 Viola decided that she was going to be an actor.


This was the age that would hold significance for Viola after she won a major art contest, which would make her strive for a career in acting. She said, “Fourteen was the age I decided that I really wanted out, and I saw a way out. A hole had been blasted through this cave that I was in.” 


But Viola nearly went into teaching because she needed a stable pay check.


Her childhood dream was to always be an actor, but like almost everyone that has a big dream, she had moments of self-doubt. When it came to choosing a major she decided to go into teaching for a stable paycheck because she didn’t want to be on welfare.

However, after missing that creative spark that she always desired she sadly fell into depression. Fortunately, her sister was there to pick her back up and urge her to pursue her lifelong dream – so Viola took a leap of faith and auditioned for one of the most prestigious programs at Juilliard, and successfully got in. 


After launching her career as a stage actor, Viola opened up about struggling with imposter syndrome.


Viola explained that even though she received praise on stage, a feeling of unworthiness would settle. She said “First of all you feel imposter in your work. I didn’t want to feel the imposter in my life,” 


Viola recalled that she and her sister Deloris struggled with hygiene and would sometimes go to school dirty, due to poverty and neglect.


In one instance, Viola was questioned by the school’s administration about smelling bad, but it only left her feeling helpless as she didn’t know what to do about it.

She said, “I think that people just automatically assume you just clean yourself. Well, not if anyone doesn’t show you. A lot of times we didn’t have any soap.” She continued, “I didn’t have the tools to figure it out on my own. Then I was ashamed that I didn’t have the tools … so all I could do was swim in the shame.” Despite this moment of vulnerability, she shared the importance of finding people in your life who love and support you.


While in school, Viola’s principal Ann Prosser gave Viola and her sister clothes.


It’s no lie that great teachers can really change your life. Viola recalled a fond memory of when her principal, Ann Prosser, showed her and her family compassion during a rough time. 

She said, “Mrs. Prosser would call me to her office from time to time with a bag full of the most beautiful clothes that were hand-me-downs from her daughter. And she would give it to me because she knew I needed clothes, which by the way, I was like… it was like giving me just some jewels.”  It was this moment of kindness that made Viola feel seen for the first time as a person and not for her circumstances.


Viola spoke about the defying moment she stood up to her father when he was abusing her mother.


During her childhood, Viola described her father as strict and violent, and she spoke about the time she stood between both her parents to stop her father from abusing her mother. 

“My fear had taken over and I just remember screaming, ‘stop it, just stop it!’ She said that it was compared to coming face to face with a giant, and added, “Here I was doing the unnatural thing, which was telling a parent to stop doing something that he should not have been doing. Everybody, especially at 14, you need a parent…for me it cost me something to tell a parent, ‘don’t do that…you’re going to kill my mom.”


But she later learned to forgive her father, and grew a close bond with him before he died.


When you’re a teen, it’s hard to understand why your parents do certain things or make the decisions that they do, but when Viola reached adulthood, she came to understand that her father was dealing with his own demons and hardships. In her book, she would further describe her father as “the first man who loved me.” and through his words and actions, this would become clear to Viola as he would show it every single day.

Mentioning a specific moment, she said, “Even when he would be in the car with me driving, and I drove into a parking lot, he would say, ‘Boy, that’s so good, daughter. You’re such a great driver. I love you so much.”


Viola described her role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder as powerful, liberating, and life-changing.


If you’re a fan of this series like I am, you would know how iconic this scene was, and to hear that Viola insisted on injecting this moment made it feel that much more personal for viewers. 

She expressed that she wanted to connect with viewers on a deeper level, and break down the stereotypes Black women face, such as not being desirable, attractive, or sexual. 

And in chapter 17 of her book she wrote, “Annalise Keating released in me the obstacles blocking me from realising my worth and power as a woman…If I were to mark the first time I fully used my voice it was in How To Get Away with Murder… the role liberated me.”


She prayed to find a husband, then less than a month later, Julius Tennon showed up and invited her to church.


For all my ladies, I think we can admit that we’ve run into our fair share of assholes, and at some point, don’t you just get tired? Well, Viola sure did! She told Oprah that her friend encouraged her to pray for the man she wanted and started by listing her requirements and desires. She got on her knees and asked for a “big Black man” and someone who “has probably been married before” with kids. 

She would also add someone who was church-going and “loves God.” and even made a promise to go to church herself. Soon her prayer became a reality as just under four weeks later, Tennon came into her life, and they tied the knot in June 2003. So I don’t know about you, but I might have to start praying for the man I want because God seems to be working miracles for those that ask…


The couple adopted their daughter Genesis, and told Oprah that it changed her as a woman.


A child’s love is a different kind of love, and this was made apparent from the look in Viola’s eyes as she spoke about her daughter. She described motherhood as simply “living for something bigger than yourself”  – and shared the sweetest moment of when they first laid eyes on each other.

“The first time she looked at me and squeezed me and made me believe that I could be her mom, and I could mother her and… and that, sort of, just really pure love that only children can give you.”


And finally, in “owning her story” Viola found self love.


In the interview, we learn that Viola is just as human as the rest of us, and she hopes that her story would help bring comfort to others on their journey of self-love. 

And at the end of their conversation Oprah asked Viola what she’s now “living for” in which she replied, “I’m living for my peace and my joy. I want to be happy.”

You can watch Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event on Netflix now.

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