The most decorated Black actress of our time, Viola Davis, turns 56 today, and it would be foolish to ignore her contributions to multiple on-screen adaptations. Before she decided to dive into the book world herself, as a writer, and produce her memoir Finding Me to be released next year, she starred in some of the most beloved book and comic adaptations to date.
In honor of another great year with Davis on screen, here are five adaptations that Davis has starred in because let’s be real, Davis is a star in any film she’s in.
Davis played Aibileen Clark, the maid of a spiteful white, southern housewife in The Help, cleaning kitchens, preparing food, and even raising her employer’s daughter. When Skeeter, a chipper aspiring writer, asks her to divulge her true feelings about being “the help,” Aibileen shares all kinds of terrible and embarrassing stories.
Despite the book being considered a kind of classic, Davis later said that she felt as if she betrayed herself by acting in the role. The book, and film, often receive criticism for painting all Black characters as helpless, dependent on white kindness from the likes of Skeeter and struggling housewife Celia Foote.
“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” Davis said in a Vanity Fair interview. “They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the white audience.”
The film was produced in a “cesspool of systemic racism,” Davis said, and remains known for its dependency on the white savior trope.
The Suicide Squad
Davis’s portrayal of Amanda Waller is to die for. She makes you admire the steely, no-bullshit leader of the Suicide Squad, and resent her betrayal and ruthless disregard for the lives of those on the squad.
Davis brought this backstabbing anti-heroin to life to the point of making you forget that she was even the person behind Waller, that it was merely a mask.
Davis really comes into her own as Waller, with her cunning plots and borderline hilariously dry outlook on life. Only she could look convicted murderers in the eye and tell them what they are going to do for her.
Waller grows even more unhinged in the new (second?) Suicide Squad film, upping the stakes of her squads, using them as bait, as mere pawns in her quest up the government ladder… and it’s awesome.
Davis’s role in Eat, Pray, Love:One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia may be minor in comparison to her award winning feats as of late, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t dazzle.
She plays Delia Shiraz, the main character Elizabeth’s best friend in the city, before she goes on to have international adventures. Delia keeps Elizabeth grounded when she’s struggling the most, her wit and friendship seemingly some of the only things keeping her afloat before she snaps.
This role teeters on the “Black best friend” trope (maybe a little more than teeter) but she still convinced the viewer that you could meet Delia walking down the busy city streets.
Another film, another racist trope for Davis to fight.
Beautiful Creatures follows a teen girl as she comes into her magical powers in the deep south. Soon after Davis acted in The Help, she played Amma in Beautiful Creatures, a librarian with a keen connection to the magical world.
Amma was originally a maid, but the film combined her with the librarian character and dropped the very “Help-esque” aspect of her character. Davis told Variety in 2013 that she was glad Amma wasn’t presented as a maid in the film.
“This is a total re-imagining of the character, and I like it,” Davis said. “I’m going to be confident and bold and say I like it because, listen, I understand and I respect the book, and I think the book is wonderful, but this is 2013, and I think that when black people are woven into the lives of characters in 2013, then I think they play other roles than maids.”
Davis actually shot Ender’s Game and Beautiful Creatures around the same time in New Orleans, funnily enough.
She embodied the role of Major Gwen Anderson, in charge of psychologically analyzing Ender, the young boy they have discreetly tasked with saving the world using his inherent talent for battle strategy.
She maintains the calm, clinical composure throughout the film, only breaking when she witnesses Ender’s prowess at the simple games meant to mimic war. As a viewer, you grow angry at the deceptive practices of the boot camp, and Anderson’s participation in it, but you can also sense that she understands Ender’s youth, and sympathizes for him as a product of the world they live in. Like her Eat, Pray, Love role, it’s not super impactful, but you can’t help but notice when Davis arrives on screen.
BONUS: I Almost Forgot About You
Author Terry McMillan recently announced her joy at Davis starring in an adaptation of her novel, I Almost Forgot About You, about a twice-divorced, 53-year-old with a successful optometry practice stuck in a monotonous way of life. She soon sets off on a adventure, connecting with previous lovers and making new friends in a quest to find her youth again.
“She’s amazing. Everything she does. I mean, I’m flattered. You have no idea how flattered I am, really, really,” McMillan said on the Tamron Hall Show. “They couldn’t have picked a better, sexier, prettier, and plus she’s Black. She’s chocolate brown and I love it.”
FEATURED IMAGE VIA USA TODAY