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Viola Davis on creating prestige roles for black actors

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When Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon started their production company JuVee Productions in 2011, the Oscar-winning actress said they did so “out of necessity” to create more fully realized roles for people of color, including understood themselves.

“I always say if you want to see where your career is going, see where the best people are in your category,” Davis said during a panel at Saturday’s Produced By conference. “And I didn’t see anything. The talent is there, but the equipment was not there. So after a while you must be the change you want to see.

The multi-hyphen explained that she and her 19-year-old husband are looking for “prestige” projects that allow black actors – and other creators of color – not only to show their talent through roles. but also to dispel harmful myths and stereotypes about marginalized communities. .

“With all due respect, I didn’t want to see another story where I was crying over the body of my dead son after dying in a drive-by shooting. I see myself as more complicated and I see all the people of color as much more complicated,” she said. “We were looking for material that honored people who were on the periphery who want to be seen, who want their humanity to be seen fully and completely – and that’s all person who stands aside.”

His words reminded moderator Yvette Nicole Brown of Davis’ role as Annalize Keating on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.” Specifically, Brown referenced a scene from Season 1, where Davis sits down at her vanity and removes her wig to reveal her natural hair before wiping off her makeup. While some may not have realized the gravity of seeing this moment on TV, Brown said “all black women” did.

“I made this decision before signing for [the show]”, Davis explained of this role and the decision to portray his character in this way. “The power of our art form is to create characters that remind you that you are less alone. I wanted to do that with Annalize Keating – especially in a dark-skinned woman because dark-skinned women, we’re literally always on the caboose.

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JuVee Productions has funded projects such as “The First Lady” on Showtime, in which Davis starred as Michelle Obama. The company’s other recent projects include ABC’s “The Last Defense,” Bravo’s “In a Man’s World,” and the documentary “Emanuel,” which honors the victims of the Charleston Massacre. In 2020, the company expanded its first-look deal with Amazon Studios, where they have several projects underway.

During Saturday’s panel, Tennon reiterated Davis’ statement that, in addition to funding their own projects, they were also driven by a desire to expand the stories told by and about marginalized communities.

“Tropes and stereotypes are so prevalent among people of color that we wanted to get away from them because, like Viola just said, we are more than that,” he said. “So we wanted to create stories and characters who live full lives, who are fully realized human beings, and then tell a story around that.”

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