I’m full of relatable experience this week and the heft is weighing me down. I’m just returning from a very important Pan African conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that begs to be reported on, and, of course, there is the fact that a mayoral election is now taking place and comments need to be made about it.
But I resist the temptations. I’ll write next week’s column about the Ethiopia trip, and, concerning the election, just vote for Karen Bass. She’s the one.
What’s really holding my interest at present is superb actress Viola Davis’ new autobiography, “Finding Me.” It won’t let me go. And it’s that good.
Particularly for those who’ve had constant struggles finding enough people in your lives who really think kindly of you and tell you that you are beautiful and essential, this book is highly recommended.
Famous now, Miss Davis scratched her knuckles against the grain just long enough and hard enough to see an opening that she eased through. Her deep-South childhood was full of traumatic chasings, batterings, family violence and fear (surrounded by “deep, dysfunctional poverty” that was grinding and unrelenting even when her family moved “up North” to Rhode Island).
She was a dark Black girl with no chance of ever being called or considered beautiful. Yet she discovered a taste and talent for show business after being inspired to her core by Cicely Tyson’s nationally-seen portrayal in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”
Here was a dark Black woman emanating grace, statue, and eminence on TV, and being non-afraid to do so. For Davis, that was a defining moment. She writes, “(Tyson) she had a long neck and was beautiful, dark-skinned, glistening with sweat, high cheek-bones, thick, full lips, and a clean, short Afro”….”It was like a hand reached for mine and I finally saw my way out.”
Doing the work and learning the acting craft led her to and through the great Juilliard School of Drama, in New York, and yet the way was still no less stony. She was always pushing against numerous immovable stereotypes but found a way nonetheless to become a working actress in the business, whose very big break came when fellow Black female thespian, Shonda Rhimes, tapped her for the starring role in TV’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Besides the increased notoriety generated by the role, she was also nominated several times and eventually won the Emmy for her portrayal of the leading character, a very complicated Harvard law professor with a cacophony of strange students and associates.
After that role, and many more, she now stands — at 56 years old — as the most accomplished Black actress of this generation. She is the first and only Black actress who’s won the Tony, Oscar and Emmy combination and stands shoulder to shoulder now with Meryl Streep, the actress generally considered the best actress of this generation.
Not bad for the former little Black girl always wishing for some light. Miss (Mrs. Julius Tennon, actually) Davis steadfastly demonstrates that one does not have to be either high yellow, or coppertone cool to make magnificent artistic waves. And that will always be a supremely good thing for ourselves and our children.
Being Black is simply all right. And any shade will do.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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