Viola Davis is not a name which rings bells of familiarity in the ears of all American movie goers. But, for those fortunate enough to know of Viola, those who have had the distinct opportunity to experience her work, her talent is undeniable, unprecedented. It is entirely clear why Viola is one of just three actors who have been honored twice at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, alongside Annette Benning and Kate Winslet.
At the start of the evening, Ms. Davis’ presence was felt immediately on the red carpet. She darned a striking, shape hugging, monochromatic, fuchsia shift as she slowly made her way through probing questions and flashing lights. Also in attendance was Viola’s husband, Julius Tennon, her Help cast mate, Octavia Spencer, and the director of The Help, Tate Taylor.
Viola was introduced to the Arlington audience with an amusing, relaxed prologue by Octavia Spencer and was received with an immediate standing ovation. Film Critic, Anne Thompson facilitated two hours of discussion and film excerpts. Davis’ husky voice carried volumes of insight as she articulately moved through the conversation. The audience was engrossed in every instant of Viola’s stories and commentaries, from her youthfully inspired beginnings in Cedar Falls to her training at Julliard, to working alongside celebrated names the likes of George Clooney, Diane
Lane, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. A landmark scene was shown of Streep and Davis together in Doubtthat brought a wave of goosebumps to arms across the Arlington. Viola said of Meryl Streep, “She’s one of those actors that gives a hundred and fifty percent with your take and then she gives a lot to her take too.”
Every single clip of Viola Davis’ work was utterly transcendent, proving time and again, the versatility and emotional truth of her acting. Crackheads, mothers, friends, maids, murderers and doctors, Viola not only embodies, but fills every role she accepts. “It is a pleasure to create a human being who is nothing like me.”
Toward the conclusion of the night, after the enlightening question and answer period
had ended, the executive director of the film festival, Roger Durling took the stage as an interlude to the award giving. Durling expressed an authentic observation of Davis, “she represents to me, what Hollywood consistently fails to produce, truth and reality.”
The inspired evening was closed with a welcome surprise. Myrlie Evers-Williams, renowned civil rights activist and journalist, presented Viola with SBIFF’s Outstanding Performer of the Year Award. Of Viola and her character in The Help, Evers-Williams said, “There is astonishing power in not only telling the truth, but also living the truth. Aibileen and Viola live the truth.”
The word “truth” was uttered often on Friday evening. One who has not seen Viola’s craftwomanship could easily be bemused by its mention. However, with one second of Viola’s acting, even without a word, it is clear that Viola Davis is the embodiment of her characters, the embodiment of their truth, the embodiment of human truth.