Note: This article contains a reference to sexual assault.
Navigating a life of authenticity amongst the complexities of the world may appear to be difficult, but speaking your truth is one of the essential aspects in achieving this. When one speaks their truth, it becomes the most powerful tool in expressing not only confidence but true feelings. Waves of inspiration can be generated from speaking your truth; especially by people who are willing to listen and then having the impact to uplift others.
One notable celebrity who acts as megaphone for this sentiment is American producer and award-winning actress Viola Davis. She is widely recognised for her roles in The Help (2011) and How to Get Away with Murder (2014 – 2020) and is a strong advocate for women of Colour. Despite Viola’s voice nowadays being filled with determination and commanding the power to be heard on and off screen, this was not always the case. Growing up as a Black girl, she thought her voice was not worthy enough to be listened to. Dating back to slavery, speaking up as a dark-skinned woman comes at a price – your life. The repercussions of a Black woman making her voice heard was deeply ingrained in Viola. Her experiences of sexual assault as a child caused her to think that she didn’t have a right to speak up as she considered this treatment to be ‘normal’.
Having the conviction to vocalise negative experiences stems from self-worth – a sentiment that I’ve learnt over the years. Discovering your self-worth and your purpose in life is not something you do alone: the love and support from people you value also have an impact on your journey. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Davis says “I did not find my worth on my own”, and this is how she was inherently able to overcome the challenges she faced. She found her voice and gained the confidence to speak out by watching her mother’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement and throughout her acting career. Viola often speaks out about her “entire life being a protest” – referencing her challenging upbringing and the lack of opportunities available for Black actresses.
“I did not find my worth on my own.”— Viola Davis, 2020, Vanity Fair magazine
Viola acknowledges that Black actresses are not able to make their distinctive mark in the early stages of their acting careers compared to their White counterparts. This is no surprise as there are many writers who don’t want to give an insight into the Black female experience. Why? Well, many roles given to Black females have been created by White men. What do they know about the Black experience, let alone the Black female experience? Davis has mentioned on numerous occasions of trying to speak to White writers to showcase the Black female experience on screen but says “I get a gag order placed on me. They don’t want to see your liberation, they don’t want to see your mess – they don’t want to see you.” Davis thought that her role as Aibleen Clarke, a Black maid in The Help would provide an insight into her experiences and consequently cause her career to pop off but she was very wrong. She strongly criticises the movie and her involvement, as she felt she betrayed the Black community – “I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth]… it was created in a filter and cesspool of systematic racism.” The movie relays the perspective of White females and ignores the experiences of the Black female maids.
Davis gained wide recognition for her role in The Help but it did not lead to other big acting roles – this would have been the opposite for White actresses like Kristen Stewart and Emma Stone. As a result, she notes that “the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.” Doors of closed opportunity did not stop Viola, as this inspired her to take matters into her own hands; she released two documentaries under her production company that focuses on racial discrimination within the criminal justice system. Davis celebrates her peers who have followed suit in setting up their own projects, especially Octavia Spencer, who co-produced and starred in Netflix’s Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker. The significance of such projects can’t be ignored and encourage others to do the same – people of colour will have more control over the narrative and we love to see it!
Photo of Viola Davis taken by Dario Calmese for Vanity Fair magazine
For some people, conversations about racial inequality would be unsettling and would stir up discomfort. Especially when a woman of colour speaks out about the negative effects of how systematic racism has played a consistent but ever-bearing role in their lives. Even when people think they have reached a pinnacle of success. However, this is Viola’s truth – her voice and mission is intricately woven into her career. Her character, Annalise Keating in Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away with Murder highlights the plights of a Black woman in a world that was not constructed for us – experiences that resonate universally all too well. Viola’s courage to speak out sets her apart. The likes of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep have taken note of this, accounting for her position within the acting industry and turning it into a greater purpose of her mission.
Imagine if we had the courage to make our voices heard in certain aspects of life, whether it’s relationships, family or the general public. Imagine the power and freedom we would feel as a result. Speaking your truth in a vulnerable yet transparent way brings out qualities of a person that is a symbol of strength. It is not about trying to challenge people in an aggressive way but speaking from an authentic place within which is built around our reality and emotions. Having the ability of expressing your truth in such a manner, has the power not only to bring people closer together but also to make a change — providing a voice for the voiceless. There are troubles associated with speaking one’s voice and this inherently makes it difficult for some people. Your life may be endangered, family members may be targeted or conflict may arise if people are offended by your words. In some countries, access to freedom of speech is limited as censorship is used as a form of control. This makes it even harder for voices to be heard but people overcome this via creative outlets – blogs and podcasts.
Speaking your truth requires a level of confidence – feeling comfortable and secure from within, so you don’t need external validation. This doesn’t happen overnight but making gradual changes to your mindset will set you on the right path. One will then transition into their authentic self and bring out a new self-consciousness. Embracing the vulnerability that comes with speaking your truth will transform your life when practiced frequently. When one speaks their truth, it is not up for debate – it is your truth! People who are willing to listen or for those who need to relate to it will find your truth to be inspiring and having a bigger impact than you think.