The legendary Viola Davis was honored at the 12th annual African American Film Critics Association Awards with the Icon award. Davis’ performance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has been heralded as one of the best performances this season. All of her performances to date have been extraordinary, so the accolades she receives comes as no surprise to the audiences that enjoy her vast body of work. What may come as a surprise is her honesty about not always feeling worthy of the praise that she receives.
In a recent interview with Allure magazine Davis talked about the tough journey she’s had with self-worth.
“I grew up in such a desperate situation that all I felt when I was younger was shame. All I did was live in secrets. That’s all that happened because I felt because I did not have all of the societal trappings of worth, that I wasn’t worthy. We didn’t grow up with any money. I didn’t feel pretty. We didn’t grow up in a nice house or a nice apartment.”
As she grew older Davis’ perspective shifted to the idea that, “…There is nothing that you have to exchange for your worth, you are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. Now, when I walk into a room, when I say that mantra to myself, ‘Viola, you’re already worthy,’ then I can speak my truth. I can show up for myself and be seen. There’s a levity to my life in knowing that.”
During a private virtual program Davis accepted the AAFCA Icon award saying, “Thank you to the African American Film Critics Association for this great honor. I’ve always struggled my entire career — probably life — feeling like I’m worthy of all this praise. I think what makes it an easy sort of pill to swallow is when I think of people like August Wilson and I think about directors like George C. Wolfe and Denzel Washington. And the reason why I say that is my acceptance of any of this praise is equal to my absolute passion to leave a legacy. A legacy for brown-skinned girls just like me who were told that they were invisible.”
She went on to say, “It’s been the ride of my life to have this career. I have been blessed and fortunate in every single way to be able to literally give you all the human beings, the black and brown human beings that I’ve embodied and to give them to you and to help you to feel less alone through their stories. I will continue to leave a legacy of hope, of life, of humor, of pathos, of humanity for as long as God will have me here. I just want to say this one thing, because of this past year and everything that we have been through, what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. We have within us, all the tools that are necessary to elevate our lives in the most unbelievable profound ways. I have found it through my acting, but my God, we can find it through every area in our life.”