Viola Davis and Oprah’s Conversation Epitomizes EmpowHERment
This is how we protect Black girls
The Tony, Emmy, and Oscar winner Viola Davis sat with mother superior, Oprah, for a special event conversation which is available to stream today on Netflix. The Harpo producers purposely used a flower motif aesthetic for B-roll and transitionary shots, giving Viola her much-needed flowers as the book has been placed on Oprah’s Book Club list. It even has a stamp of approval. The book is available in both print and audiobook, narrated by Viola herself of course.
The two present on screen as if they’re two divine creatures regaling in triumph, happiness, and strength as they both openly discuss childhood poverty. Oprah a.k.a. O, whose been on more Forbes lists than one can count, never shies away from her financial achievements. In the opening pre-scenes to their conversation, we get a glimpse of Oprah, the media maven.
“We are out today in Maui on my front porch, ” Oprah said in the opening of the Netflix special as she smiles passionately at the camera. “I always loved front porches but when I was young only white people had them, now I have one.”
Viola appears, looking fabulous, hair natural, just enough eye makeup, and wearing a light blue Spring dress. This is an important presentation physically for her as we learn later on in the conversation. Oprah is sporting a beautiful multicolor printed skirt with a royal blue top. They are the essence of middle-aged Black beauties. It sort of feels like listening to your aunties after they leave the church, or being a fly on the wall during one of their girl talks. It’s giving family slash generational trauma vibes. Oprah holds the book in her hand, and seems to have pre-written notes and specific excerpts flagged, prepared to charge Viola with deep-seated soul questions throughout their talk. Oprah appreciates the depths of Viola’s courage in storytelling, as well as how it forces readers to combat their own lack thereof.
There’s also a really neat convo with Gayle in the pre-show where Oprah tells Gayle she is literally about to have the talk now and we hear Gayle say “please leave some stuff for us…” to which Oprah replies to Viola after she hangs up her watch, “what she means [is] leave some for her, I’m thinking about me right now…” Viola chuckles as if she’s just a fan of the very public media-friendly friendship between the two.
“The mice would jump on the bed?!,” Oprah asks Viola. “Yes,” she reluctantly tells Oprah. You can see Viola’s prowess as a performer coming through powerfully even when she isn’t reading scripted lines.
Her capacity for multilevel human empowerment is real, as seen through in her character Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder, created by another powerhouse Black woman, Shonda Rhimes. The impact of what all these women solely represent in America seems magnified by the attacks against newly famous names like Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and Cori Bush. Sorry for the political segue, but #whenweallvote is important. Coming from disgustingly poor conditions with two parents, whom she admires, taught Viola to swallow hard pills with no water. It’s a hard knock life for us….all. Oprah is saddened that the woman sitting across from her had to endure this as a human, but as a Black woman from Mississippi, we can see they share a sort of special sauce. Once you make it out, what now?
Viola teaches self-love every time she candidly says that she isn’t beautiful.
“You know I knew I wasn’t pretty, didn’t have money or resources so I had to figure out what I had,” Viola said int the interview.
She is currently the face of L’Oréal, under their global skincare line. She says love is what shaped the person she would become. When asked by O, “but how…how did you know your father loved you…”, Viola exclaims “Oh, because he told me. One time I drove a car I was learning to drive right into a lot and he said oh Viola I love you, you’re just the best driver.” This section of her story sounds highly familiar to another powerful Black female, interviewed on a big scale by Oprah, who also wrote a book about her life in the White House. Former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Her questions don’t rattle Viola, but there are moments that the questions cut deep into open wounds that may be still healing. “How do you forgive the sexual abuse stuff and the physical abuse…isn’t it hard?,” Oprah asks Viola. Viola pauses, then says in a lower tone, “of course it is… and it’s something I think I’m still working on every day.”
Preach. Forgiveness, the way Oprah spins it, is giving yourself permission to lose hope that the past could’ve been any different. Deeeeep.
Personally, I always saw forgiveness as permission we give ourselves to love after understanding what happened to you is for a reason. It’s a kind of reverse power struggle. Yet still a struggle. Viola and Oprah both represent the triumph of a Black American woman in Black America. It might be harsh to hear, but so many of us deal with a sense of this isolated ideology, “honey you have no idea what I’ve been through…” and it shouldn’t be our triumph statement anymore.
We all walk a different path within the same garden, feeling shame, like our back is against the wall, like we are ships adrift in the ocean with no lighthouses, no signs of safety. The more time spent together in our gardens help us plant stronger flowers for the future.