Having starred in everything from Oscar-winning August Wilson adaptations to superhero movies and network dramas, Viola Davis has lots of thoughts about what it takes to get a project greenlit in Hollywood.
Speaking at the Produced By Conference on Saturday (via Variety), Davis opened up about how a lack of quality roles for Black actors prompted her and her husband Julius Tennon to launch their own production company, JuVee Productions, and how social media’s outsized influence on the entertainment industry ultimately hurts artists.
“Social media has taken over the defining of this art form,” she said. “I think that the word ‘escapism’ is something that is interesting — the goal all of us have is to sit in a movie with the popcorn and Sour Patch Kids and forget about our lives — but, literally, it destroys our art form.”
Davis believes that, while some escapism is healthy, the financial incentives to create entertainment that ignore reality make it harder to craft complex characters.
“Every time you’re in a room selling a narrative, it’s about how much you can create a story that allows us to escape,” she said. “The characters then become a Mr. Potato Head, become Bobble Heads. We forget who these people are really until a movie comes along and blows our mind.”
While it’s easy to connect Davis’ comments to massive franchises like Marvel and “Star Wars,” no star is ever truly free from the comic book movie craze that has swept Hollywood over the last two decades. Davis starred as Amanda Waller in both David Ayers’ 2016 film “Suicide Squad” and 2018’s “The Suicide Squad” from director James Gunn. She also appeared in two episode of Gunn’s spinoff series “Peacemaker,” and is currently developing a separate HBO Max spinoff about her character.
Still, Davis made it clear that she would like to see Hollywood go in a different, more thoughtful direction. When asked what advice she would give to aspiring producers, Davis wasted no words.
“I would be bolder,” she said. “I have to say, especially as a Black person, there’s so many things that are taboo. Most of the people you’re in the room asking for money or for a greenlight, there are certain things you don’t say. It’s going to be too insulting. You don’t know until you try.”