The Academy Awards are this Sunday and I’ll be tuning in to cheer for RI’s own Viola Davis! A native of Central Falls, Davis is a Best Actress nominee for her role as Aibileen Clark, in the widely popular movie The Help, also nominated for Best Picture. She is the maid and nanny who bravely opens up to a white woman in 1962 Mississippi, allowing her to truly see what life is like for the African American servants who devote their lives to the white families that employ them. Her portrayal has earned her critical acclaim and also garnered her a Golden Globe nomination and Screen Actors Guild Award.
Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark and Octavia Spencer as her best friend, Minny Jackson
Davis was born on her grandmother’s farm in South Carolina, the second of six children. The family moved to Central Falls when she was 2 months old. Her mother Mae Alice was a maid, factory worker and homemaker, and her father Dan was a horse groomer for the Narragansett and Lincoln Downs Racetrack. Growing up in abject poverty, Viola says that acting, writing scripts and skits were a way of escaping her environment at a very young age. She fell in love with stage acting when she became involved in the arts at her alma mater, Central Falls High School. She majored in theatre at RI College, graduating in 1988 and in 2002 she received an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the college.
While she was a teenager, her talent was recognized by Bernard Masterson when, as director of Young People’s School for the Performing Arts in West Warwick, RI, he awarded Davis a scholarship into that program. She was also involved with the Federal TRIO Upward Bound Program, which provides support and opportunities to high school students from low income families to attend college.
As a Rhode Islander, I am proud to be cheering on Viola this Sunday. Whether she wins the Oscar or not, her life is an example that anything is possible if you pursue your dreams with all your strength and passion. From very humble beginnings, living in poverty, to an Academy Award Nominee, Viola took advantage of every opportunity she could find to make her dream of acting a reality. During her Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech last month she told the students at Central Falls High School to "dream big and dream fierce."