Viola Davis Delivers Stirring Speech at ASC Awards: ‘I Am Very Committed to Bringing Black Women to the Forefront’

Newly minted EGOT Viola Davis was bestowed with the ASC Board of Governors Award at Sunday night’s American Society of Cinematographers ceremony. Speaking to a room filled with artisans, Davis told the audience, “If you want to know me, don’t ask me how I do my hair or where I live, ask me what I live for.

On hand to present was “The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who awards-hopped from the ACE Eddies. Davis was met with rapturous applause and said, “Sometimes you have to look at your life backward, and suddenly everything is in perspective.”

In a nearly 10-minute speech, Davis talked about growing up in poverty and around domestic violence “and not seeing any way out.” She said, “What happens is you pray to be able to bust a hole through this wall with something. That’s what you imagine, ‘I gotta make a difference,’ but for me, I wanted to heal.”

Davis said that meant looking at moments of joy, heartache and mess: “If I can encapsulate that in a character, then what I could get is purpose because I can help people feel less alone. I realized that’s why I’m an actor.”

With a resume that includes “Widows,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” Davis founded JuVee Productions with her husband Julius Tennon in 2011. The company recently inked a two-year first-look TV and media deal with Entertainment One (eOne). She said, “As much as you want to put movies out there, to make a lot of money at the box office and you want people to be reciting the lines from your movie, I want people to connect with themselves.”

Davis spoke about her personal history, from when she was mistreated as a child to when she had a dream of becoming an actor to eventually enrolling in Julliard. “For me, I’ll tell you what life is about. It’s 6-year-old Viola who was always called ugly, and was always taught that she had no value. But she ran her leg of the race and passed the baton to the 14-year-old Viola who had the idea to become an actress. That’s what I want to do, and that’s how I’m going make my mark.” Davis then skipped ahead to her marriage and the birth of her daughter.

“If you want to know me, don’t ask me how I do my hair or where I live. Ask me what I live for,” Davis said at the climax of her speech. “Or better yet, ask me what is getting in the way of what I live for.”

“If you know me, you know that I don’t give myself a lot of credit,” Davis added. “But I will give myself the credit for freaking being a survivor.”

Having spent seven years bringing “The Woman King” to the big screen, Davis emphasized a major pillar of her mission: “I am very committed to bringing Black women to the forefront.”

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