Book Finding Me: A Memoir - Viola Davis

Finding Me: A Memoir - Viola Davis

Could the place and conditions of your birth define you? Learn the story of Viola Davis, one of today’s most famous and influential actresses who has triumphed against prejudice and life’s adversities.

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Sometimes accepting our fate and putting our heads down seems the wisest and easiest thing to do, doesn’t it? But what if our destiny is more than just fitting into society’s pattern? What if everything we went through in this life was to prepare us for this destiny that can be squandered by fear?

In this autobiography by Viola Davis, we have the passage of a woman who discovered herself as a heroine of her own plot. Going through all the stages of a great story of overcoming, we have a displaced main character who begins a journey while not yet ready to find her truth.

Even compared to a generic fantasy structure, our reality and the tales can be much more interconnected than one might think, and we all have the ability to overcome our challenges and difficulties.

Be inspired by this woman who has dominated the spotlight on screen and in reality!

The book “Finding Me: A Memoir”

Containing 304 pages, the work distributes in 17 chapters the different stages of Viola Davis’ life. Born in the USA in precarious conditions where hunger, fear, and prejudice were the roots of her daily life, the actress lived through horrendous experiences that marked her for life.

The book portrays these experiences in a non-romanticized way and analyzes how the author's actions and thoughts in her adult life led her to have the strength and perseverance to achieve her dreams, one of her milestones being the 2017 Oscar for the film “Fences”.

Who is Viola Davis?

Known mainly for her appearances in major films and series such as: “How to Get Away with Murder”, “The Help”, “Suicide Squad” and more. Viola Davis is one of the 100 most influential people by the Times and has won several awards such as Oscars, Emmy Awards and Tony Awards.

Her skills also extend to producing and writing, having written a children’s book (Corduroy Takes a Bow) and an autobiography.

Why should I read “Finding Me: A Memoir”?

The market is always renewing itself and because of this we often feel out of place and incapable. In this book we will see the difficulties that Viola went through and what struggles she chose to face to get where she is.

The book also teaches how to channel emotions and difficulties in a productive way, and shows how willpower can be the difference between failure and success.

Whether you are a fan of her work or of her representation as a black woman, this story is surely going to help you persevere on the path you have chosen for your life.

What can I learn from “Finding Me: A Memoir”?

  • The power of memories;
  • Fear as fuel to go in search of your dream;
  • Self-love;
  • Representativity on the television screen;
  • How to live with the scars left by life.

How to grow in the midst of so many adversities?

Any human being has a very strong instinct about survival, some have never experienced this, so to imagine a scenario where violence, theft, and poverty surround your daily life is impossible.

Those who have gone through these hardships know that their spirit must be strong to fight and survive in these conditions, and this was the case for Viola.

Born on August 11, 1965 in South Carolina, since she was a child the actress was reminded of her color and also of her position within the prejudiced hierarchy.

She defended herself by having a competitive and angry attitude, which took her to the coordination office on several occasions. It was clear the anger and desperation of a child who challenged whoever she was and, at the same time, was challenged every day.

While telling about her past, there are moments that marked her the most and that defined her for many years, until her adulthood. One of them is how she was chased after school several times by a group of boys who called her ugly and made her suffer, throwing objects and trying to hit her, it was a daily torment.

In this case the phrase “Run Viola, Run!” would be well applied, because she was running to survive, a never-ending race coming from the constant fear of her past. Unfortunately, this was not her only problem while growing up, her father was the first man she loved and also the first to break her spirit.

Constant violence against her mother brought an instability within the place she should have felt most secure. Sexual abuse by her brother was also a reality that she had to go through as a young child.

The family’s poverty was a reality that made her steal to feed herself. These moments marked her in different ways, generated a deep insecurity, and many times she felt diminished before others, including those she admired.

Every part, good or bad, influences and shapes our possibilities, but who defines what to do with them are ourselves.

“Memories are immortal. They’re deathless and precise. They have the power of giving you joy and perspective in hard times. Or, they can strangle you. Define you in a way that’s based more in other people’s tucked-up perceptions than truth.” - Viola Davis

How did Viola find and follow her purpose in life?

Finding your purpose, or what you want to spend your life doing, is not easy, because besides the countless attempts to find yourself, we often have our ideas blocked by society’s idea of security and stability.

For our protagonist, her magic moment happened when she saw the actress Cicely Tyson, someone who looked like her, on television! If she could do it, how could little Viola not? And her opportunity came in a city contest in which she and her sisters did a skit called “The Life Saving Show” and they won.

This event brought more than the prize, it also brought the recognition she secretly longed for. Eventually, she ended up engaging in extracurricular activities at school and among them was Theater. Many years later it became clear why she had chosen this profession: it was an escape, where she could channel all her real-life emotions and anguish.

And so she kept getting interested and participating in more activities in the area, including another selection where 30 teenagers competed for a trip to Miami. This was not only the moment in which Viola fell most in love with the art of acting, but also the moment in which she felt most out of her comfort zone.

All these small steps led her to enter university and attend drama classes, but her fear of not being able to financially support herself and having to return home led her to consider being a teacher. However, this only led to a deep depression that eventually made her return and take a chance on acting.

Finishing college she continued to participate in acting programs and eventually entered The Julliards School, it was there that her sense of who she was completely changed. There she understood the power of the color black.

She realized how this field was extremely prejudiced and neutralizing of minority and Afro-descendant cultures. Not only did they make her fit into neutral characters with no cultural trait – after all, most of the plays were made by whites for whites – but the shame of being who she was affected her confidence. By then!

She was forced to realize that fighting who she was and who she had been was not a reality she had to accept. Then, by taking a trip to countries in Africa, Viola was finally able to understand her roots and who she was meant to be in the profession she chose to have.

Unfortunately nothing is made only of happy parts and self-fulfillment, her path was hard. She worked several jobs in order to support herself and eat, but her fear of having to return home was worse.

During this time, she also had a boyfriend who was part of 7 years of her life, however it was not a healthy relationship, there was no communication, and so he was seeing several women. This moment is relevant because it was from it that, close to her graduation at Julliards, she got pregnant.

Her fear and insecurity hit once again and the difficult decision of abortion was made, as she pointed out herself in her book, everyone has secrets and this is one that hurts the most in her life. The thing to be learned is that we are all built of scars, but if it weren't for them, we wouldn’t learn how to live.

How did Viola become famous?

Fame is something very much desired in many areas, but especially in this one. The difficulty of getting there is the issue, if you are not famous, how will you be able to support yourself in the field?

The biography points out how only 0.04% of actors become famous and this is not just because of talent, there is an unspoken reality, which is luck! This little word is essential for anything to happen, no matter how hard you try.

So there Viola was, a graduate of Julliards, with a famous agent, but no role was given to her. There were several attempts and failures, she didn’t fit the pattern or wasn’t well-known enough, so her income came from small theater performances.

Until luck knocked on her door and the courage to face something new landed her a role in the play “Seven Guitars” directed by Lloyd Richards. During this time, she grew a lot as an actress and finally managed to improve her quality of life.

This directly affected her family, who received financial help from their daughter. When she was nominated for the Tony Awards, the requests for help began to be more frequent and in larger amounts. The family was earning very little and the number of family members increased with Viola’s brother’s children unable to support themselves.

While there was a positive part to this situation, such as the change in her father’s behavior, who had now become caring and affectionate towards everyone in the family, especially her mother, this created a constant desperation to get enough money to support herself and everyone else.

Eventually she began to participate in more roles and even got on TV, one of Viola Davis’ first films was the movie “Out of Sight”, with George Clooney and Jenifer Lopez getting $1,000 a day.

It was during this time that she met her husband Julius, learning more and more to love and accept every part that made her who she was.

Upon entering this field, roles began to appear like dominoes, once inside the industry the constancy was more certain and so she landed a role in the film “Doubt” with Meryl Streep.

Her recognition grew immensely with this and several other productions, making 2011 and 2012 very rewarding. In these years she and her husband formed JuVee Productions and she was named by TIME magazine, one of the 100 most influential people.

At this time an issue already resonating in her life came back to the forefront, the lack of roles for black women and especially those who were “too black”. She did not fit the sexualized standard that society and movies presented. This only intensified her desire to change the industry and represent all that she ignored for years.

How did Viola Davis use her voice in the entertainment world?

Speaking your truth and your thoughts is never easy, whether in the beginning, middle or end of your career. Doing so means showing part of your essence, and when it is related to representativity, breaking the paradigm of shame and oppression suffered is even more painful.

Her opportunity came when she accepted the role of Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she was described as a defense attorney who was sexual, intelligent, vulnerable, with possibilities of sociopathy, highly cunning and criminal. Nothing like old jobs, after all, this was a role where no one thought her capable of performing because of her appearance.

This role had no color, in the sense that it could be played by anyone, but she wanted to show that this role was made for her, someone who, yes, has a color! Her request to the director was to take off her wig in the first season, something symbolic and representative to her culture.

We all know how she exploded into the world through this TV series that showed not only that black women can be sexy even if they don’t fit the standard, but that they have the guts to overcome and hold on to their dreams.

“Every  painful  memory,  every  mentor,  every  friend  and  foe  served as  a chisel [...] The imperfect but blessed sculpture that is Viola is still growing and still being chiseled. My elixir? I’m no longer ashamed of me. I own everything that has ever happened to me. The parts that were a source of shame are actually my warrior fuel.” - Viola Davis

More biographies about overcoming

A brilliant mind would never go through difficulties, would it? In the book summary of the book “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson we see that the life of geniuses is not as easy as expected and everyone has their demons to face.

The artist Frida Kahlo also built a legacy where she transformed her anguish and pain into representativity and art, in the book summary “Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera we go through the various transformative stages of her life.

To conclude, we have the story of “Nujeen”, written by herself together with Christina Lamb. As a refugee, she had to go through immense hardships to leave her homeland, yet she had one more obstacle, doing it all in a wheelchair.

How to use Viola Davis’ lessons?

  • Don’t be afraid of your past, learn from it and find your truth;
  • Challenges and limitations imposed by others are inevitable, but it is you who decides when to give up or continue;
  • Learn to love yourself with the flaws and qualities you have, life is something precious that should be valued, regardless of the scars you carry;
  • As difficult as it may seem, be yourself always and everywhere, don't hide or repress yourself in front of others' opinions.

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Book Finding Me: A Memoir - Viola Davis