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TIFF 2022: Viola Davis Talks ‘The Woman King’ and Shares the Importance of Black Women Taking Up Space

Viola Davis in a pink gown
Getty Images

Any woman of colour knows what it likes to feel like you don’t belong in a certain space. Whether that’s due to imposter syndrome or low self-worth, it can sometimes be challenging to feel like you are worthy of making your voice heard or taking up space. But if you ask Viola Davis, she’ll stress that it’s very important.

As part of TIFF 2022, Twitter Canada held a Q&A with the cast of The Woman King, the Viola Davis-led film that also stars Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim and John Boyega. The cast discussed making the film and the importance of taking up space as Black actors in Hollywood.

Related: TIFF 2022: 5 must-see movies you’ll be excited to watch this year.

When asked why taking up space was important in the context of the entire movie, Davis said: “It is important within the context of the film, but it is important in the context of this world, because there is no way that change and progress can happen if you don’t take risks.”

Our voices have been stifled, we haven’t been seen, we’ve been invisible for so long.

“Listen, one of my favourite sayings is, what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly,” she added. “And I think as Black people, and especially as Black women, we’ve been given insurmountable odds. Our voices have been stifled, we haven’t been seen, we’ve been invisible for so long.”

Viola Davis in The Woman King
Courtesy of TIFF

“I always say… there was a reporter who interviewed me the other day. He was a white man, [a] very very nice [man]. He said ‘I love the film, but I know I’m not the audience,’ and kept trying to talk. And I had to say, ‘I’m going to stop you right there. You are the audience. Because every time we do a movie, we have to appeal to you. We have to water down our voices, we have to water down our images, in order to fit whatever your perception [is], to ease your fears, to do all that.'”

Davis’s key words of wisdom? To take risks.


“And when you don’t step into the room, and you don’t take risks, and you sort of just cave under the weight of the status quo, then it continues,” she said.

Related: TIFF 2022: Here’s where to meet your fave celebs in Toronto.

Viola Davis and the cast of The Woman King
Courtesy of TIFF

Viola Davis shares the seven-year journey to making ‘The Woman King’ come to life

Later, Davis explained the importance of the movie, which she says she fought for over the last seven years. (She is one of the film’s producers.)

“I’m going to be honest, I’m going to make it plain in the words of Malcom X: There are no words to quantify what that fight is. Everyone thinks about the movie and its inception, and then they see it on screen. They don’t talk about the process in between.”

“If you were a fly on the wall, and you can see every time you walk in that room you’re hustling for your worth,” she said. “You’re fighting for simple stories, the hair, the makeup, what we look like.”

Related: 10 times representation happened for Black women and why it matters.

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