Finding Me | Viola Davis

Summary of: Finding Me
By: Viola Davis


Embark on a journey through the life of renowned actress Viola Davis, as we explore the pivotal moments and struggles that have shaped her into the extraordinary person she is today. In the book ‘Finding Me’ by Viola Davis, we experience her early beginnings in South Carolina, the struggles she faced in her family life, her determination as she navigates her way through the world of acting, and her fight against Hollywood’s colorism. Take a curious dive into the captivating stories and life lessons from Viola’s life, as she inspires us to confront our own fears and understand the hero’s journey within ourselves.

Finding Strength Within

Amidst the chaos and violence of her childhood, Viola Davis learned early on that life would be a fight. Haunted by her difficult past, she found hidden strength within herself – the courage to stand up, fight back, and work tirelessly toward becoming someone she could be proud of. With each achievement, she asked herself, “Am I somebody now?” Ultimately, it was the memories of her younger self that would propel Viola to success, teaching her important lessons she carries with her today.

Viola Davis could have told Will Smith any number of pivotal stories from her life in response to his inquiry about who she was. At the age of 14, she lived in a world filled with turmoil and violence. Her parents, MaMama and MaDada, were often fighting, with MaDada’s addiction to alcohol leaving them struggling financially. Their small apartments could not protect Viola or her siblings from witnessing these outbursts.

One night, the violence escalated, and MaDada threatened to hit MaMama with a glass. Viola stepped in, demanding her father to give her the glass, and to her surprise, he complied. In that moment, she realized her life would be a fight, but more importantly, that she was strong enough to fight back.

Another significant memory came when Viola, only five years old at the time, met her sister Dianne, who had been living elsewhere. Well-groomed and well-dressed, Dianne was a stark contrast to Viola’s life. Sensing this, Dianne asked Viola if she wanted the same bleak existence when she grew up. Viola’s emphatic “no” led Dianne to encourage her to define her identity, and to work relentlessly towards her goals. This advice planted a seed within young Viola, who throughout her life continued to ask, “Am I somebody now?” with each accomplishment that followed.

However, one memory stood out above the rest – her third-grade self, pursued daily by a group of classmates who taunted and ridiculed her for her appearance and race. Day after day, she ran home in fear, until one fateful day when, slowed down by a snowstorm, she was caught and beaten. This traumatized eight-year-old girl stayed with Viola, even as she found success in Hollywood and earned numerous accolades.

Rather than let this pain hold her back, Viola discovered that the lessons and strengths she had developed in her past continued to shape her future. As she stood before Smith, an accomplished actress and woman, she understood that each of those experiences had forged her into the strong, resilient individual she was – and it was that strength that propelled her to success.

That terrified, taunted eight-year-old girl was still with Viola, not as a burden, but as a powerful reminder of how far she had come – a reminder that the strength we need to achieve our goals often lies hidden within. In recognizing this, Viola found not only success, but a deeper sense of who she was, and the power that came from understanding her own journey.

Viola’s Journey to Stardom

Viola’s life parallels Joseph Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Journey. Growing up in a small Rhode Island apartment, she discovered her passion for acting after being captivated by Cicely Tyson on television. Despite facing many obstacles, Viola eventually found her way to the prestigious Juilliard drama school. Her experiences in Africa reconnected her with her essence and the power within, solidifying her love for performing and her determination to make a mark on the world as a Black woman.

Discovering her innate passion for the art of performance, Viola stared at her television screen in her family’s Rhode Island apartment. A young, vibrant actress named Cicely Tyson appeared on the television, and she was a striking reflection of Viola’s MaMama. This representation was the call to adventure that would change Viola’s life – the path to becoming an actor.

Viola’s big break came in the form of a citywide talent contest. Despite expectations that others would win, Viola and her sisters put on a captivating performance and took home the prize. She then continued to excel in Upward Bound, a performing arts program for underprivileged kids, despite facing discrimination, hardship, and poverty.

During this time, Viola nurtured her acting skills and utilized performance as an escape from the harsh realities of day-to-day life. She found solace and joy in theater, fueling her desire to continue following her dreams. Her sister Dianne also had aspirations for acting, but her practical nature held her back. In contrast, Viola’s love for performing drove her forward.

Viola’s perseverance granted her the opportunity to attend Circle in the Square Theater’s summer program in New York. To fund her life in the city, she took on a variety of jobs during the day while dedicating her nights to her craft. After the summer program ended, she had the chance to audition for America’s most prestigious drama school: Juilliard.

Juggling her many responsibilities, Viola managed to impress the audition committee in the limited time she had. This resulted in her being offered a coveted place in the upcoming class. However, her time at Juilliard was not always happy. As she faced financial adversity and the school’s Eurocentric approach, she found that her voice was becoming stifled.

An opportunity for Viola to explore Africa revealed a deeper connection with her heritage and renewed her sense of identity. She shared food with locals, learned songs, and participated in traditional dances which brought her an unmatched sense of joy, freedom, and happiness. This transformative experience helped her find her true essence as a Black woman and reignited her passion for performing.

Viola’s journey from her Rhode Island apartment to the African continent and back to the halls of Juilliard highlights her unwavering determination to follow her dreams. Through every challenge she faced, her love for the performing arts and her connection to her roots spurred her on. As she continued her journey, Viola became more than just a promising student – she was a powerful Black woman, ready to take on the world.

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