Viola Davis Defends Marvel, DC Storytelling: "Art Lives in That World of Imagination"

The actress spoke on topics ranging from storytelling to inclusion at a celebratory event, during she received the Rome Film Fest’s lifetime achievement award.

Viola Davis closed out the Rome Film Festival on Saturday night at a special event where she was honored with the fest’s lifetime achievement award.

The actress, who discussed her work at a Close Encounter talk with festival head Antonio Monda, covered a wide range of topics, from her groundbreaking role as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder to her tough audition for the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences opposite Denzel Washington. Davis not only won the role, but later received an Academy Award for the 2016 film adaptation.

Earlier in the week, Martin Scorsese was in Rome to promote The Irishman and repeated his widely publicized comments that superhero films are not real cinema. Davis, who starred in the DC Comics film Suicide Squad and will reprise her role as intelligence officer Amanda Waller in the upcoming sequel, was asked her opinion on the debate. “I do like a good Marvel movie. I do like a good DC Comics movie,” she said.

Davis went on to explain that what she loves about superhero films is their ability to capture and expand the imagination. “Albert Einstein said that imagination is more valuable than knowledge. If I did not have my imagination, I would still be poor Viola living in Central Falls, Rhode Island, who is not considered attractive or whatever,” said the actress. “My imagination defined me. I could escape into a world that’s infinite, a world that I could create on my own, a world where I could redefine myself. That’s where art lives." 

She continued: “Art lives in that world of imagination. It’s a playground there. It’s God’s playground. It’s not up to anyone to say what deserves to be there and what doesn’t deserve to be there. It’s anything that you want to be in that place can live there. And that is why we have some of the greatest painters, some of the greatest actors, some of the greatest writers, and that’s why we live. So I do believe that there’s a place for all of it.”

Davis did qualify that she loves all of Scorsese’s films. “I think he was voicing his opinion. I think it’s valid,” she said. “Everyone had a place, an opinion. But I like a good Marvel movie.”

Monda also asked Davis if she thought the Film Academy was doing enough for women and diversity by adding more members to its ranks. “It’s a reduction to answer the #MeToo or diversity inclusion issue by relegating it to just the Academy. Everything is white … except for the NBA and the NFL,” she responded, to much audience applause.

“Everything is white — studio heads, executives, films," continued Davis. "How many films do we have this year with people of color being a part of the conversation? Everything. As many television shows as we have on the air, once me, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington, once we leave TV — how many black women do we have even leading television shows?”

“Critics are white, usually male,” she added. “If you’re just looking at the Academy, you’re not looking far enough.”

Davis said that the answer starts with the filmmaking process, looking at what types of stories are greenlit and what types of actors are cast.

“Even if 93 percent of Academy members are people of color, but only one film has been made that year with people of color, then what good is it? We want to work and we want to do great films that reflect who we are. We want to have an expansiveness of storytelling,” said the actress. “We want to get paid the same way that white actors get paid, because we don’t. Things are changing, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Related Davis, “I tell my daughter all the time, just because we are 12.5 percent of the population, doesn’t mean we just want 12.5 percent of the pie. When I started out as an actor, I wanted it all. I want the world. I don’t want to just stay in my lane.”