Viola Davis Says Being a Black Actress Takes ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’

LOS ANGELES - OCT 26: Viola Davis at the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 26, 2018 in Beverly Hills, CA — Photo by Jean_Nelson/Deposit Photos

For Viola Davis, the road to success has not been easy.

The Oscar and Emmy-winning actress leads the cast of The Woman King, a new film that tells the story of the Agojie — the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey from enemies in the 1800s.

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Davis, whose breakout role came in the award-winning 2008 film Doubt, spoke with Essence about her new movie and the challenges of being a Black artist in Hollywood for the magazine’s September digital cover story.

“There are no words to describe the journey, the sweat, the blood the war, that is being a Black artist and being a Black female artist. If people understood what goes on in the room, what goes on in the studio, what goes on in a heart, what freaking dies in us at times,” Davis said. “When they see the carnage of all the Black actors who were out there, even during the Sydney Poitier years, that couldn’t even have an agent, because it was nothing out there for them.”

She noted that the fight to be seen and heard is not new, but she wants fans to know it’s still challenging.

“If they see the blood, sweat and tears of what it took, not just for this movie, just what our journey is. Then they would be on board. They would be on board because they would understand the absolute importance of it,” she continued. “And whatever little jealousies, which is very human because that’s what it is, it’s jealousy. It’s envy. It’s I want to be there. It’s that basic human instinct to take someone down because I need to be better than you in order to feel some other importance. That is secondary to elevating the ultimate goal, which is us being seen.”

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Davis was first presented with the idea for The Woman King in 2015, but she said it took years for the story to make it to the screen.

In addition to starring as General Nanisca, she serves as a producer on the film which is inspired by real events.

The movie is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a story by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens. The cast also includes Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Adrienne Warren, Thuso Mbedu, and John Boyega.

The Woman King arrives in theaters on Sept. 16.

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