‘I never stopped running’: Viola Davis opens up about trauma of racist abuse as a child

Award-winning actor was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for a new Netflix special

Amanda Whiting
Friday 22 April 2022 16:39 BST
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Oprah announces Viola Davis’ memoir as book club pick

Viola Davis has opened up about the racial abuse she experienced as a child in an intimate interview with Oprah Winfrey released on Netflix.

Speaking ahead of the release of her new memoir Finding Me, the award-winning actor claimed the racist abuse she suffered on the walk back from school was “the memory that defined me”.

Davis, who grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, also recalled the poverty and abuse she experienced inside her home as a child.

The actor, known for her roles in Suicide Squad and Widows, told Winfrey she remembers being eight-years-old, waiting at the back door of her school for the dismissal bell to ring, signaling the start of her race to home.

She said she would run from the school as fast as possible, while she was chased by a group of boys who would pelt her with rocks and sticks while yelling racist abuse. “I’d run over people,” she told Winfrey.

Davis also described herself as a tough kid, recounting an instance when she even defended herself with a crochet needle. But she acknowledged how those early brushes with “vitriol” shaped the rest of her life.

“I never stopped running,” she said. “My feet just stopped moving.”

In contrast to Winfrey’s recent high-profile interviews with Adele, and Prince Harry and Meghan, both of which were both filmed in Santa Barbara County, California, her sit-down with Davis took place on the lanai of her Maui home.

Davis also identified the pandemic as a reason for writing her memoir, claiming she was motivated by a search for meaning that was “exacerbated” by the isolation she felt over the past few years.

She told Winfrey she expected the fame she’d achieved in her career to bring her joy and peace, “sort of like Cinderella when Prince Charming comes in”.

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Viola Davis in the Netflix special (Huy Doan/Netflix)

“And that didn’t happen,” she said. “What happened was excitement at first and then the feeling of exhaustion. The feeling of, really, impostors in my life in terms of friendships. People overstepping their boundaries. People feeling like I was a commodity. Pressure – the pressure of unseen responsibility.

“All I know is it wasn’t it. Then the question is, so Viola, what is it? What is it? What’s home to you and how do you get at it? And I didn’t know the answer to that. The only thing I could think to do was to go back to the beginning of my story.”

Finding Me , which will be published in the US by HarperOne on April 26, was also recently announced as Oprah’s latest Book Club pick.

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