Spend 15 minutes with Viola Davis and you’ll understand why she’s one of the industry’s most respected, in-demand actresses. She’s as regal as a queen, but cracks a joke to put you at ease. Professional, but playful with her glam squad. Stunning, but makes you feel equally beautiful by complimenting your lipstick. When she wants to emphasize a point, she leans forward and taps you gently on the knee to make sure she has your attention. And when you try to ask the Vaseline brand ambassador what she does to take care of herself, she turns the question back on you: “If I asked you all the things you loved, how long would it take you to mention yourself?”
Five days later, I’m still thinking on my answer. But Davis’ wise words ring loud and clear: “That’s the one thing that women negate. They’re taking care of the kids, taking care of the marriage, and trying to be overall Superwoman. I think that the one person that gets left on the shelf is yourself.”
Ahead, Davis shares more of her wisdom on the evolving beauty landscape, the #MeToo campaign, and how she’s working to change representation in Hollywood. Read her wise words below, then watch the video above for more answers that are sure to stay with you for weeks to come.
What do you think about brands like Vaseline and Fenty Beauty creating more inclusive product ranges? And what do you hope to see more of from the beauty industry?
“To embrace all shades and sizes. To not beauty shame or body shame us into feeling like if we don’t look one way, then you’re off the beauty radar. If you’re not a size 0 to a size 4, you’re out. If you’re darker than a paper bag, you’re out. If your hair is crinkly, you’re out. If your nose is big, you’re out. I want people to have a more expansive definition of what [beauty] means.
“The thing about Fenty, which I own, is that I can get a base makeup that is exactly my skin tone. I don’t feel like I have to get something five shades lighter, or mix two shades together in order to get my shade. And it feels like my natural skin. It’s full coverage, and I’m honored by the fact that I’m recognized in this beauty line. I thank Rihanna for that. As opposed to going to a drugstore and another drugstore, especially if you’re somewhere in like, I don’t know, Montana where you can’t find anything for you. It makes you think then, Ok no one is thinking of me. It’s something that I struggled with a lot.”
And inclusivity in beauty needs to go beyond skin tone, too. More ages, genders, careers, and personalities need to be reflected in campaigns. What are you doing to change that with your film and television roles?
“We, as artists, are representative of the human experience. Human beings have got to feel less alone when they watch us. The Brady Bunch we know doesn’t exist anymore. Art has got to reflect life… Life is about running your leg of the race. It’s about influencing the next generation of people who are coming into this business to write in a way that’s more expansive. It’s up to producers. It’s up to studio heads.
“Finally, it’s up to the audience. If you don’t plop money down to see that movie that is reflective of life, then you are sending a direct message to Hollywood that you don’t want to see that… That’s on TV, too, as well as movies. You gotta lean in, and you gotta give something a chance. Inclusivity can’t just be a hashtag you’re using, but then you’re not really open to it in your personal life.”
We’re in an intense time in Hollywood right now. You’ve come forward with your own experience of sexual assault in the past. What do you think about the #MeToo campaign?
“I feel like it’s a problem that’s existed since the beginning of time. It’s one of those truths that have been the big white elephant in the room that we just now decided to see, because it’s in Hollywood now. I see it as forward movement. Finally the victim and the silence is being eradicated…
“What people have to understand is that the day anyone is sexually assaulted, they essentially die. It’s an out of body experience. You leave your body in order to deal with the assault. Then it causes so many problems after — body dysmorphia, addiction, suicide, depression. It behooves us to keep saying ‘me too,’ to keep being healed from it, and for these predators to be brought to justice. We have to take it very personally when any human being is victimized. It’s bigger than a Weinstein problem. It’s bigger than a Kevin Spacey problem. It’s bigger than Hollywood. One out of six women will be sexually assaulted before they turn 12. It’s got to be stopped.”
When women of color speak out with their #MeToo stories, like Lupita Nyong’o, they often don’t get as much support as white women do. How can we change that?
“Reject it. Reject that a lot of Black women, in anything, are not validated. Say that I’m not going to accept it anymore. Anybody who’s progressive and changed the course of history dared to do that. I reject the fact that I’m less than. I feel like my ‘me too’ is just as important as Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘me too.’ And that’s just the way it is. I’ve already redefined it in two seconds or less.”
Disclosure: Travel and expenses for the author were provided by Vaseline for the purpose of writing this story.
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