Inspiring, Viola Davis is in many ways. She is the first African-American actress to win an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar. For the Echo, she talks about her new big role: “The Woman King”.
This Wednesday, October 12 comes out, on our screens, “The Woman King”, a film co-produced by Viola Davis with her company JuVee Productions and Sony Pictures and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Based on the real story of dahomey amazonsthe film relies on a cast made up almost entirely ofblack actors. African-Americans, but also British and South Africans. Since the huge success of “Black Panther”Hollywood understood that films worn by black actors could be a hit at the box office.
For its first weekend in US theaters, “The Woman King” reported more than nineteen million dollars at the box office and thus ranked first. He is already in the race for Oscars, which will be held on March 12, in particular for the performance of its main actresses: Viola Davis herself, but also Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch. Because, as much to say, “The Woman King” is a women’s film. And even of warriors. Moreover, the fight scenes are numerous.
“The film emphasizes the ability of women to take on multiple tasks. This often costs them more than men.”
His challenges, his victories
During confinement, Viola Davis wrote her autobiography, “Finding me: A memoir”. She revealed there extreme poverty where she was raised, domestic violence within his family, the facts of racism of which she was a victim at a very young age… And did not omit either the years of study of dramatic art within the prestigious Juilliard School where, a rare black student, she could not access certain roles. Either because people thought her skin was too dark, or because people didn’t think she was pretty enough.
Later, of course, when it was time to really embark on an acting career, there were just as many obstacles. However, despite the barriers, Viola won a first Tony Award in 2001, then, nine years later, a second. She was rewarded with a Emmy Award for his performance in the television series “How To Get Away With Murder”. In 2017, she obtained for “Fences” the Golden Globe and theOscar for Best Supporting Actress.
In the coming months, we will find Viola Davis in very different projects. She will thus play alongside Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in a film retracing the genesis of the famous Air Jordan sneakers. She will also appear in the sequel. “The Hunger Games”. Finally, she will embody Harriet Tubman, an African-American activist famous for her fight for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. A tailor-made role for Viola.
It took several years before the project of “The Woman King” saw the light of day. Why?
One thing that people don’t understand about Hollywood, because a lot of people send me great, well-crafted ideas, is the journey between the final touches on the script and the theatrical release. It always takes time.
“Me, what I know of history was taught to me through the prism of white people.”
Although this film takes place at the beginning of the 19th century, in Dahomey, the former Benin, it is of a certain topicality in the sense that it shows women fighters.
Indeed, the Agojie, or amazons of Dahomey, were trained in combat with machetes, spears and the practice of martial arts. And they were prepared to bear the pain like any military unit. And the most important thing is that they were forbidden to marry and even have a romantic relationship. I believe the message is to emphasize our intimate power as women and not to accept limitations based on gender. And also, he insists on the ability of women to take on multiple tasks. They take their time to take care of their family, their children. It often costs them more than men. I believe that all of these aspects come together in the film, which shows the extent of the female gender.
Wasn’t it also important to you to tell a part of the history of Africa?
Of course, I still want it. This story that is not told, not or little known and never shown. By making this film, I learned a lot about this kingdom of Dahomey whose society was very advanced. I got to know their intelligence and their ability to be economically self-sufficient. Personally, what I know of history was taught to me through the prism of white people.
“I believe there comes a time when you have to become an outlaw and break the codes.”
This role of General Nanisca is your most physical role so far.
Absolutely. I followed a long training, every day for several weeks, with two hours a day of martial arts. You know, it’s very liberating when after saying to yourself: “No, I’m not going to do it!”, you realize that you are capable of it. And it’s interesting to realize how much you put the brakes on yourself before you even start. So, I surprised myself. And I’m fifty-six.
Isn’t this your first film where the action takes up so much space?
Yes, but I wouldn’t call it an action movie. In reality, we have never produced a film like this. It’s mostly played by black, dark-skinned women, and while there are fight scenes, it’s also a period piece. So I would rather call it a historical and action drama. The characters are deep and we show it.
Throughout your career, you have managed to become a role model for many women.
Yes, and I like it. I believe there comes a time when you have to become an outlaw and break the codes. When something is not right for you, it is your duty to fight it. And I will not bend to rules that do not serve me. So this film is my magnum opus. Not for the action, the muscles or the character, but for what it represents.
“The Woman King” | Trailer
Gina Prince Bythewood
With Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch…
On view from Wednesday 12 October
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Viola Davis, the woman-king