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Viola Davis determined to go above and beyond on diversity

When Viola Davis started her production company nearly a decade ago, she was determined to bring about change in Hollywood with a strategic mandate: Normalize people of color on screen.

“We’re not social statements. We’re not mythical creatures all the time … you can literally put pen to paper and write a great story that includes people of color, and it could actually sell,” the Oscar winner said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Now, in the era of Time’s Up and #MeToo, the call for diversity on all levels has been amplified. Some actors and directors have publicly called for 50-50 inclusion riders, contractual stipulations for the diversity of a film’s cast and crew. But Davis says she doesn’t need a piece of paper to do the right thing, and her projects don’t try to replicate diversity simply based on statistics.

“Maybe that’s narcissistic of me, but I don’t want to tell my daughter that because she’s 12 percent of the population, she only deserves 12 percent of the pie,” Davis said.

She calls her JuVee Productions a “walking metaphor” of inclusion, noting that she has people of color and members of the LGBTQ community on staff at every level.

“Women are at the forefront of just about every project,” she adds.

She started JuVee Productions with her husband, Julius Tennon, in 2011 so she could have more of a voice in her own career, as well as provide more diversity on set. Before that, Davis says, she often felt left out of the conversation.

Davis spoke to the AP while promoting a documentary on diabetes, “A Touch of Sugar.” The actress, who has an early form of the disease and has lost family members to it, wants to use her celebrity to help raise awareness.

“That’s what I can do. I’m not a politician. I’m not a senator. I’m not in the House of Representatives. I’m not in Congress. What I am is an artist. That’s how I provoke change,” Davis said.

Earlier this month, she signed on to Netflix’s adaptation of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” to be produced by Denzel Washington and co-starring Chadwick Boseman.

And JuVee has a slate of films on the horizon, including “Emanuel,” a documentary released this month that explores life in a Charleston, South Carolina, community after a self-avowed white supremacist killed nine African Americans at a church there in 2015. The story focuses on the victims’ family members, friends and community, and their efforts to heal through faith and forgiveness after the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Church. Dylann Roof was convicted of federal hate-crime and obstruction-of-religion charges and sentenced to death.

Davis also has a feature film in development, “The Personal History of Rachel Dupree,” in which she stars. It is based on the Ann Weisgarber novel about a pregnant woman struggling to survive with her homesteading family in the early 1900s.

(Source)

50 Agents of Change Empowering Diverse Voices in Hollywood

The Hollywood Reporter highlighted 50 individuals who have helped drive opportunities for more diversity in Hollywood … including Viola.

Meet the creative and business forces — including Kenya Barris, Laverne Cox, Jon M. Chu and Norman Lear — who are shifting the industry’s landscape to drive opportunities onscreen and off for fresh talents and leaders: “I want to do things that break what I expect Hollywood to do.”

“Every time someone earnestly explains why it is so incredibly deeply difficult for them to find a woman or a man of color to hire,” says Shonda Rhimes, “an angel loses its wings.” In other words, it’s way past time for Hollywood’s offices, sets and writers rooms to represent robust diversity, and THR’s first-ever roster of Agents of Change highlights the key figures working daily to make that happen. They were chosen — after extensive reporting and consultation with stakeholders at every level of entertainment, as well as key members of inclusion-centered industry groups like Time’s Up and ReFrame — for their active leadership and mentorship: These are the producers, execs, creators, stars and advocates making content, making hires and making noise for those still finding their voice. Adds Rhimes, “Good men fix broken things.” So meet the good men (including some straight white dudes), good women and one nonbinary person who are leading the way.

Viola Davis
Actor, producer

The Oscar winner and Time’s Up activist is an outspoken advocate for pay parity, speaking about her experiences as a woman of color who has repeatedly been paid less than her male and white female counterparts. The 53-year-old actress, who earned acclaim working with black creatives like Steve McQueen, Shonda Rhimes and Denzel Washington, has also committed to fostering the next generation of behind-the-camera talent. Under her and husband Julius Tennon’s JuVee banner, which has a first-look deal with Amazon, she’s developing features with such directors as Maggie Betts and telling diverse stories like The Woman King, an Africa-set epic about an all-female military unit.

Viola Davis Reveals She Experienced No Symptoms Before Her Prediabetes Diagnosis

I had prediabetes but was able to make changes that helped me take control of the situation … I am so proud of Viola addressing this issue and helping others learn.

Prevention.com talked with Viola and allowed her to share her story.

She narrates A Touch of Sugar, a documentary about the type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Viola Davis has a powerful voice that commands a room. When she speaks, you can’t help but listen, and what she says leaves a lasting impression on you. Perhaps that’s why the Academy Award-, Tony-, and Emmy-award winning actress decided to partner with Merck to narrate A Touch of Sugar, a documentary film about the type 2 diabetes epidemic in America, which debuted at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night.

In Hollywood, there’s no shortage of celebrities that are outspoken about spreading awareness for cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. But rarely does a celebrity come out to de-stigmatize diabetes. The 53-year-old How to Get Away With Murder star has witnessed first-hand how the disease has ravaged families.

“My two sisters have diabetes. My aunt died of diabetes after having her two legs amputated. My paternal grandmother had diabetes. The list goes on and on,” Davis says.

Davis was also recently diagnosed with prediabetes herself. Davis says the aim of the documentary is to inspire others to become advocates for their family and friends and draw national attention to improving access to healthcare and better-quality foods. Because let’s face it—everyone knows someone with diabetes.

“There are 30 million Americans with type 2 diabetes and 84 million with prediabetes. There are 324 million people in this country, so that’s half the population right there,” Davis says. “I think this documentary is really wonderful because it’s confronting the stigma around diabetes, and it’s giving a voice to something that has been voiceless for way too long and that’s why the numbers are too high.”

What is the difference between prediabetes and diabetes?
Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 84 million Americans—that’s more than one out of three adults—have prediabetes. And of those people, 90 percent don’t know they have it.

“I was experiencing absolutely no symptoms,” Davis says. “None whatsoever. I felt totally healthy and able. Listen, I’m a workout fiend. I’m a really strong woman. I went in for a hormone test, and my doctor took an A1C test.”

The A1C test Davis refers to is a blood test that takes the average of your blood sugar levels for the past two to three months and is used to diagnosed type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. But more specifically, the A1C test measures glycated hemoglobin, aka how much of your red blood cells is coated with sugar. The higher your number, the higher your risk of diabetes. Anything below 5.7 percent is considered a normal A1C level, while anything between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetic. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher indicates that you have diabetes.

“My test was a little high. It was 6.0, and it sort of leveled me because I eat right, I work out, my glucose level has always been good. It’s good now, so I didn’t understand it. My understanding of diabetes was that it was something that you control. If you had it, you did something to not control it. I didn’t think that’s not what could happen until I got it, and then I got it and became someone I stigmatized.”

Since her prediabetes diagnosis, Davis is being more proactive about her health and focusing on what she can do to improve her diet, stick to her exercise routine, and manage stress. Here’s what she had to say.

She’s focused on making better food choices
Davis admits that she hasn’t changed her diet drastically since her diagnosis. “What can I do? Can I not have the orange?,” Davis jokes. “I don’t feel like I load up on sugar or carbs. Even when I’m on the set, I make very healthy choices. But I have a genetic disposition with diabetes, so I have to be more than vigilant. I have to be hyper vigilant,” Davis explains.

For instance, if she’s craving noodles, she’ll go for yam noodles because they’re high in fiber and don’t have refined carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels. When she’s in the mood for pizza, Davis says she’ll use a cauliflower pizza crust, which is also high in fiber and nutrients. Instead of adding sweetener to her coffee or tea, she opts for ground cinnamon to boost the flavor.

“I’ve always understood carb counts and how to measure that. But I also keep in touch with my doctor who can keep me honest because blood doesn’t lie,” Davis says. “But not everyone has contracted this disease from diet. It’s about having a healthcare provider and getting your blood work done to check your A1C and glucose.”

She stays active and is all about building strength
As a self-described workout fiend, Davis likes to stay active. In fact, it’s rare that she’s not moving. “I love being 53, but the body is different at 53, and I’m only saying that because I work out really, really hard—probably harder than a 20-something year old,” Davis says. Davis also likes to lift weights and does many HIIT workouts, using resistance bands and medicine balls. “I do a lot of planks, a lot of step-ups, a lot of medicine ball exercises—like 15- to 20-pound balls. I run. I have a Peloton bike. I have a Boflex machine. What don’t I do?,” Davis laughs.

She keeps stress in check
But Davis understands that turning the intensity down is just as important as turning it up, and that’s why she has also learned how to squeeze in more self-care into her routine.

“I think therapy is a great thing. I forgive myself daily. I try to meditate, but I’m really bad at meditating because I always think I have to think of something,” Davis says. She’s also a fan of using the Zero Gravity Full-Body Kahuna Massage Chair Recliner. “It’s life giving. It’s got 20 different programs. It helps me recover, and it helps me sleep. I also have a weighted blanket that I like to use,” Davis says.

After all, when it comes to managing prediabetes and diabetes, treatment goes beyond diet and exercise, Davis stresses. “I remember someone said this about marriage: You never want to be automatic because then you’re not in it. It’s the same thing with your health. You can never not be in tune with it. You have to be a warrior about your health. You can’t approach it passively. You have to be a warrior with every aspect.”

Viola Davis urges crowd at CU Boulder to ask what they’re doing ‘to make life better’

Viola Davis stepped on stage at Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado Boulder on Thursday evening to thunderous, earsplitting applause.

It’s something she’s wanted since she was a small child, but it’s not without its pitfalls.

“When you are a kid, you dream of that applause,” Davis said. “When you get older, you’re like you’ve got to live up to it.”

Davis has won Emmy and Tony Awards and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Fences” and is the most Academy Award-nominated black woman in history. She also stars on the television show “How to Get Away With Murder,” and appeared at CU Boulder on Thursday night at an event co-hosted by the student-run Cultural Events Board and Distinguished Speakers Board.

She answered questions about working in Hollywood as a black woman and her roles on “How to Get Away with Murder” and “The Help,” for which she was nominated for one of her three Academy Awards.

Previous speakers hosted by the organizations have included CNN journalist Anderson Cooper and actor Laverne Cox.

Davis talked about her childhood in Rhode Island where she grew up as she called it “po,” a “rung below poor.”

“The thing about being poor is you are invisible,” Davis said. “When you are poor you have nothing.”

Davis said she considers herself a hero in the Joseph Campbell sense of the word, because a hero is someone who doesn’t fit in. She said she found that in acting, which she was inspired to pursue after the watching the 1974 television movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” starring Cicely Tyson.

She added that her older sister, Diane, who she did not meet for several years, because her sister lived with their grandmother in South Carolina, also pressed her to find a dream upon coming to Rhode Island and seeing their low-rent housing.

“She looked around the apartment and said ‘What do you want to be?” Davis said “I said ‘I don’t know.’ She said ‘If you don’t want to be poor like this, you have to know what you want to be.'”

Davis said we are living in an age of anxiety and encouraged the near-capacity crowd at the 2,040-seat auditorium to counter that by finding ways to be a positive force.

“We live in a really broken world,” she said. “There’s a lot of fabulous things going on out there, but there is also a lot of crap.

She added that most of the people in the audience were likely “at the beginning of your race.”

“You have to ask yourself this question: Is there anything you are doing to make life better?”

(Source)

“Ms. Tyson Has Always Been My Muse”: Viola Davis on the Life-Changing Magic of Cicely Tyson

Viola wrote this great piece for Vanity Fair about the talented Ms. Tyson whom she is not only co-stars with on HTGAWM but also her friend.

With a career spanning six decades and dozens of film credits, honorary Oscar winner Cicely Tyson is a bastion of Hollywood achievement. Viola Davis looks back at a lifetime of brilliant performances.

s. Cicely Tyson is elegance personified. She is excellence. She is courage. When I think of her, I think of the Stevie Wonder song: “Show me how to do like you. Show me how to do it.”

The first time I encountered her I was a little girl living in a tenement building in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where we had electricity in only one part of the apartment, and hooked our television into an extension cord we ran from one side to the other. There, sitting on the floor with my sisters, I watched the made-for-TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in which she depicts a woman’s life from her enslavement on a southern plantation at about age 23, to her joining the civil rights movement at nearly 110. When my sister said, “That’s the same actress,” I couldn’t believe it. Back then, I lived in a sea of white faces, onscreen and off, and here was this woman who looked like me—and she was performing magic.

Good actors, through very hard work, are able to transform for a role, but Ms. Tyson—the Harlem-born daughter of immigrants, discovered in her teens by an Ebony magazine photographer—transcends that. She embodies the depth of a character, her history, her memory. It was impossible not to fall in love with everything she did, this chocolate girl with a short fro fighting to portray a wide-ranging humanity too rarely afforded to actresses of color: our sexuality, our anger, our joy, our wildness. As a teenager I watched her heart-rending performances in her Academy Award-nominated role in Sounder, and alongside Richard Pryor in Bustin’ Loose, and as a Chicago schoolteacher in The Marva Collins Story. Later, when I was a student at a Circle in the Square Theatre workshop, I came across photos of her on Broadway in the 60s, sharing the stage with Alvin Ailey and Claudia McNeil in Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, and shining in Sidney Poitier’s staging of Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights.

When I was cast as Annalise in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, I could think of no one other than Ms. Tyson to play her mother. Those first scenes we filmed together were more poignant than I could have imagined. There I was sitting on the floor like a little girl again, no wig, no makeup, and there was the then-91-year-old Ms. Tyson behind me, all grace and grit, her strong hands parting my hair and scratching my scalp the way hundreds of thousands of black mothers have done for their daughters; the way mine did for me.

A few years ago she told me a story about how, when she played Jane Foster on East Side/West Side with her own short hair, almost 50 years before I first bared my own on network television, she would get a boatload of mail every week—a boatload, she kept saying that word—from African American women who said she was a disgrace to the race, wearing her nappy hair and looking ugly on screen. “You also took that wig off, and you also got a boatload of messages,” she said to me. “But they were all positive.” Those famous Shakespeare lines comes to mind: “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” Ms. Tyson has always been my muse, leading me down this path of life, holding the lantern, paving the way.

The Wisdom of Viola Davis: “Anger Is Underrated”

The Hollywood Reporter featured Viola on the cover of their special issue that has been released! Personally I feel she is a great choice!

In a candid discussion, the ‘Widows’ star — and Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree — reveals herself to best-selling author and leadership guru Brené Brown in a raw exchange about trauma, healing, politics (“I see America as that uncle who loved you more than anything, but has a record for murder”) and how Time’s  Up is changing Hollywood: “Now, I don’t have to walk into the room like a dude, have a pretend penis and sling it on the table” to be heard.

Viola Davis and Brené Brown first spoke in May 2017. Davis had recently won her Oscar for Fences, and Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and the author of multiple best-sellers on courage and vulnerability, was developing her 2017 book, Braving the Wilderness. Brown’s work as a leadership consultant has earned her fans in Silicon Valley (Melinda Gates: “Brené taught me that leadership requires admitting what you don’t know instead of pretending to know everything”), Hollywood (her A-list acolytes include Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Laverne Cox and Oprah Winfrey, who calls her a “soul mate”) and well beyond (her two TED Talks have close to 50 million views between them).

Brown was eager to interview Davis because “she’s such an incredible example of what it means to belong to yourself before you belong to anyone else.” And Davis embraced being part of Brown’s book because the actress had begun to speak more openly about the traumas of her past — growing up extremely poor, hungry and abused in Central Falls, Rhode Island — and her healing path, which includes her art as well as her activism on behalf of impoverished families. The star has helped raise more than $20 million to fight hunger as an ambassador for the Hunger Is campaign, and has donated funding to the local library and the high school theater program in her hometown, as well as supported a community health clinic there.

Davis’ 2017 conversation with Brown ranged from her damaged childhood (“I was a bed-wetter until I was 12 or 13. I smelled. Teachers complained about the smell and sent me to the nurse’s office.”) to the fear and anxiety she carried into her adult life and, finally, her awakening, at age 38, to her own strength.

Today, the 53-year-old Davis’ star is shining brighter than ever: The perennial awards contender has notched two more Emmy nominations (she won in 2015 for ABC’s Shondaland drama How to Get Away With Murder, becoming the first black woman ever to take the drama lead actress honors) and is in the Oscar conversation now for her work on Steve McQueen’s female-centered heist film, Widows. JuVee, the production company she founded with husband Julius Tennon in 2011 (the same year they adopted their daughter, Genesis), recently announced a first-look feature deal with Amazon (JuVee’s overall TV pact with ABC is ongoing). And THR’s 2018 Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree says she is “defiantly in the season of finding myself again.” So in a searching conversation on Nov. 26 — edited for length and clarity — she and Brown picked up right where they left off.

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Viola Davis Attached To Star In ‘The Fighting Shirley Chisholm’ For Amazon Studios

Deadline gives us the exciting news for a new project!

EXCLUSIVE: Days after Oscar winner Viola Davis and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions announced a first look feature production deal with Amazon Studios, the first project is moving forward: The Fighting Shirley Chisholm in which Davis will produce and star as the U.S. Representative who was both the first woman and the first person of color to seek a major American political party’s nomination for President.

Amazon studios acquired the title in what we understand was a fierce bidding war, with Homegrown Pictures’ Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, Dear White People) and Mel Jones producing with JuVee. Maggie Betts (Novitiate) will direct the screenplay written by Emmy-nominated writer Adam Countee (Silicon Valley, Community, Mindy Project).

Countee had long been interested in telling Chisholm’s story and his research led him to write the feature script on spec about the trailblazing congresswoman who never backed down as her bid drew ridicule and bigoted backlash. Chisholm ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 from New York’s 12th congressional district and became the first black woman elected to Congress. In January 1972 she announced her presidential bid in a Baptist church in her Brooklyn district. That election ended with George McGovern getting the Democratic nomination and losing to incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon.

Davis can currently be seen starring in the critically acclaimed Widows from director Steve McQueen and stars in Amazon Studio’s Troupe Zero, alongside Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan. Davis won an Oscar for her supporting role in Denzel Washington’s feature adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences in 2017 in addition to a Golden Globe and SAG award for her performance. She won a drama Primetime Emmy in 2015 for her lead actress role in ABC/Shondaland’s How to Get Away With Murder. Davis is the first black actress to be nominated for three Oscars, and one of the few to have an Emmy, Oscar and Tony Award win.

Davis is repped by CAA, Lasher Group and Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman Inc. Homegrown Pictures is repped by UTA, Artists First and Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein. Countee is repped by UTA and 3Arts. Homegrown is dedicated to creating content by and about women and people of color with authentic stories, depictions and representation with the company amassing more than 100 award nominations with wins from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP and more.

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