Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event sees the two powerful, titular women – Oprah Winfrey and Viola Davis – sit down for an eye-opening chat all about the latter’s life, from childhood all the way up to where she is today.
The highly-emotional interview reveals some incredible truths about Davis’ life. Here are seven of the biggest takeaways we got from the Netflix special.
7. Davis was bullied intensely as a child at school
Speaking about her time at school, Davis shed some light on how she would run home as soon as the bell rang at eight-years-old, because the same group of boys would chase her, calling her the N-word and throwing "anything they could find" in an attempt to hit her.
“That really is the memory that defined me,” she said. “What I always say is that I thought I was really slick, I was tough…but I always say that I never stopped running, my feet just stopped moving. That as I went through my life, as much as I tried to put on that mask of bravery, of confidence, of being that sort of boss woman that people talk about…but inside, absolutely was the damaged little girl that I left in Central Falls that really, really believed that she was ugly, that she was not enough. That’s what defines me more than anything else.”
6. She always knew she was poor
As Oprah explains that Davis' family was not only challenged by racism, but "poverty, addiction, and abuse", Davis would open up about being raised with her five siblings in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
"We knew we were poor," she explained, "always being hungry in cold Rhode Island. Plumbing never working... never having a phone." Despite all of that, her love for her parents shined through; she didn’t hold them accountable for their circumstances but instead, the environment in which they were living in, allowing them to get to such a place.
5. She once stood up to her father's abuse
Likening this experience to coming face-to-face with a giant, Davis said that when her father was once abusing her mother, she stood between them and remembers screaming at him to stop.
She revealed: "This is my father. 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.’"
4. Davis has suffered from imposter syndrome
After launching her career as an actress on stage, Davis would enjoy the applause she got from her performances but, admits that they also increased the feelings of unworthiness. Speaking about her new book, she said she has hopes that it will help those who may be experiencing the same sort of thing, calling it a “gift to others” and explaining: “It’s my way of owning my story. It’s my way of not sort of sweeping it under the rug.”
3. She used prayer to meet her husband
Speaking about life before she met her husband of almost 20 years, Julius Tennon, Davis said that a friend encouraged her to use prayer to ask God to send a match her way. She started those prayers, by asking for a "big Black man". She also asked for someone who had "probably been married before", and a man who "goes to church and loves God". She even made the promise to "go to church, God. I really will. I'm committed to it."
Just under four weeks later, Davis met Tennon. The pair tied the knot in June 2003 and have a child together, their daughter Genesis.
2. Her memoir arrived partly due to the coronavirus pandemic
Whilst stuck in lockdown with most of the world during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Davis says she was motivated by a search for meaning because of the isolation she had been feeling over the past few years.
1. She felt some people were using her for her fame
Davis spoke about her achieving fame and success: "What happened was excitement at first [as she reached high levels of stardom] and then the feeling of exhaustion. The feeling of, really, imposters in my life in terms of friendships. People overstepping their boundaries. People feeling like I was a commodity. Pressure - the pressure of unseen responsibility."
She continued: “All I know is it wasn’t it. Then the question is, so Viola, what is it? What is it? What’s home to you and how do you get at it? And I didn’t know the answer to that. The only thing I could think to do was to go back to the beginning of my story.”
Oprah + Viola: A Netflix Special Event is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix. Finding Me by Viola Davis, will be published by HarperOne in the US on April 26th, 2022.