Viola Davis: “It’s important for black women to be at the forefront of successes”

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“There always seems to be some kind of celebration in Brazil. You guys have a lot of partying around here,” he said. Viola Davis when starting a press conference in the Rio de Janeiro in front of visibly excited journalists with their cell phones in the air.

The actress and producer came to the country to promote her newest film, “The King Woman” , which premieres this Thursday (22). It is an epic that tells the true story of the African warriors Agojie, responsible for defending the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) until the end of the 19th century.

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Next to Viola was Julius Tennon who, in addition to producing the film, is the actress’ husband.

“This movie took seven years to produce,” says Julius. “Telling a story about black people in Hollywood is never easy, but we overcome all difficulties.”

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In addition to the press conference, Viola Davis will premiere this film on Brazilian soil, this Tuesday (20), in Rio de Janeiro.

When asked why she chose Brazil for one of the most important events related to the film, Viola mentioned the period of slavery in the country.

“The first stop for the slave ships was here, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved and brought here and then spread to the other colonies,” she says.

Colonialism, for Viola, created an idea that Caribbean, American and Brazilian blacks, for example, have nothing in common.

This film showed me the connection we have as black people and Brazil’s contribution to that is huge. It is important that we do not feel that there is an estrangement between us. We all came from the same place.

Viola Davis


Viola Davis is one of the most versatile actresses in cinema, in addition to being one of the most awarded. She owns the so-called “triple crown of acting” with an Oscar, an Emmy Award and two Tony Awards.

Viola navigates well both in extremely commercial films such as “Suicide Squad” (2016) and in author features such as “A Limit Between Us” (2016), for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

A powerful spokesperson for black representation in cinema, Viola made a point of emphasizing that she is tired of seeing black women being relegated to unimportant roles.

“We are always nameless lawyers and doctors, characters who reach the end of the scene and say something funny, mothers who mourn the death of their child killed in a shooting”, she says, and then emphasizes: “We can be more than that: we are complex, we have feelings, beauty, we need to be humanized”.

Emotional, Viola said that in ten years of acting, she has never felt so represented in a role.

“I played many theatrical characters, which had already been played by white women, and I felt that I didn’t really fit in what it meant to be a woman, to be feminine, to be beautiful…”, she says. “With this movie, I’m in my world.”

With “The King Woman”, Viola Davis and Julius Tennon tried to bring the black woman to a place of valorization, of importance.

Always very firm in the interviews she gives, Viola Davis narrates some episodes of racism in the film industry she went through. In this press conference, she told one more.

“One person said to me, out of the blue, in the middle of a conversation: you know you’re not pretty, right?”, narrated Viola. “They can tell you what you are or aren’t without consequences, so we’re humanizing people of color in this film, valuing them.”

Viola and Julius hope that black women will find their inner warrior strength by seeing the film and that they can be sure that, yes, they do matter and Viola already knows that all too well.

I care as much as a Meryl Streep, a Julianne More. I don’t care if I’m not blonde, I don’t care if I don’t wear 36, I still matter, I’m still worthy. And what we create in cinema has to reflect all of that.

Viola Davis

Preparation for “The King Woman”

The King Woman Viola Davis

Julius Tennon, between laughs, admitted to being a motherfucker and always seeing the women in his family as warriors.

“They were always ahead of the family’s decisions, raising children alone. They are true inspirations and that’s what we want to inspire in those who watch ‘A Mulher Rei’”, he says.

For Julius, the film has it all: humor, emotion and, of course, when it comes to an epic, intensity.

Despite having long battle sequences, Viola says it’s reductionism to call the film simply an “action movie”. She prefers “historical action drama”, but recognizes that there was a great physical preparation on the part of the actors to live the characters.

“To play General Nanisca, I had to follow an eating plan, in addition to training five hours a day. Some swords I used were light, some not. I even lifted one of almost 10 kilos, with one hand”.

She regrets that, for example, there is only one book that tells the story of the Agooji and that they are known as “Amazonas” – which, according to Viola, is a colonialist term.

After watching several documentaries, the actress built her character, Nanisca, in the most humanized way possible.

“She has secrets, traumas, and despite being a warrior, she is a sensitive and fragile woman”, she says.

When asked about the use of the term “king” (king) instead of “queen” (queen) in the film’s title, she again cites the issue of representation.

“In the movie, I’m a General, I earned it”, he says. “We Black women are always ‘secondary’ in everything, so seeing myself on a poster as ‘king’, subverting that narrative, is extremely powerful.”

Space in the film industry

The King Woman Viola Davis

During the press conference, the CNN asked if the market has been more receptive to black directors, producers and actors or if they created their own paths, despite the industry.

Julius replied saying that he could talk for days on this subject but that yes, black directors, actors and producers must have a very clear vision of what they want to be within this market.

“We have the skills, the talent, the will, we just need a chance to shine,” he says. “We will always be ‘in deficit’, but it is necessary to have an optimistic, hopeful mindset”.

Viola returned to the subject during the press conference, saying that the reason why it is known that Juliane Morre, Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren for example, are great actresses is because they had the opportunity to show that.

And that’s what Viola Davis wants with The Woman King, she wants to be seen, she wants black women to be seen. However, it is useless if the public does not go to see the film, according to Viola and Julius.

It is necessary to market films with black people. These productions need to make money, and when they do, then yes, we will see a proliferation of this type of storytelling.

For Viola, audiences need to invest in movies like this, see movies like this, otherwise they just won’t be made.

Finally, she subverts the collective and asks the audience: can black women be the heroines of their own stories? As Lara Croft, Tom Raider, Black Widow…

“If you can invest your money to see Scarlett Johansson, Angelina Jolie and other women wielding swords, beating men and being invincible, then you can invest your money to see King Woman,” says Viola.

For her, some people have to see it to believe it and “A Mulher Rei” is doing just that: people are being affected by history, by representation and once affected, it’s hard to go back to what you were before.

“It’s what I hope, I pray for it,” Viola Davis said, smiling, just before a long round of applause.

Watch the trailer for “The Woman King”:

Source: CNN Brasil

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