Viola Davis radiates on the cover of Vanity Fair for its July/August 2020 edition. The Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning actress discusses police brutality protests, the fight for equal pay as a Black thespian and much more. Dario Calmese shot the photos accompanying Davis’ feature, and made history in doing so. He is the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair.
Davis, who turns 55 next month, has been vocal about the importance of equal pay for Black actors, famously (and excellently) stating during a Women in the World event in 2018 “People say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep...OK, then if there is no one like me, if you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth.” She doubles down on that statement during her Vanity Fair interview, adding that addressing every issue of systemic racism in this country would take forever.
“Should I say it? Should I not? What’s a good hashtag?” she says. “Is there going to be some kind of silent backlash, where I just stop getting phone calls? Stop getting jobs?” She also points out Vanity Fair’s issues with inclusion, which the writer Sonia Saraiya agrees with. (“There’s a real absence of dark-skinned Black women. When you couple that with what’s going on in our culture, and how they treat Black women, you have a double whammy. You are putting us in a complete cloak of invisibility,” Davis notes.)
Elsewhere in the conversation, Davis discusses wanting to be on the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter protests but acknowledges her apprehensions with COVID-19. As we know, the illness comes with a higher mortality rate for African Americans.
“This WAS our civil rights movement, and we were sidelined because of health issues,” she says of wanting to march with her close friend, Octavia Spencer. “We felt isolated from the movement.” Nevertheless, they made sure to find a way to show their solidarity. They held a neighborhood demonstration “with friends and family members who needed to be mindful of their health” in Studio City, Calif.
Davis also explains some of her regrets about being in the film The Help, which was her introduction to many despite being in the acting game for years. According to the actress, despite earning an Oscar nomination for her role of maid Aibileen, she wishes she hadn’t been in the film.
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis says. “They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the white audience...There’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself, and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth].”
Read more of her outstanding feature here.