Friday, February 17, 2012

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly"

Last week I posted Michelle Obama's video about Black History month and its dedication this year to African American women. It is within that context that I note the powerful emerging voice of Viola Davis.

As she has made her way around the Oscar circuit Viola Davis has impressed the Bagger – and everyone else who has heard her – by speaking eloquently about subjects that many shy away from: race, class and sexism, in Hollywood and in the real world. Even as she campaigns hard in the best actress race, Ms. Davis continues to speak her mind.

I've been paying attention and have to say that I too am impressed. Here she is this week on CBS This Morning.

I was struck by how no matter what typically shallow inane question they threw at her - Viola seemed to be able to find some depth. For example, when asked about her mother's reaction to the film, Davis says she hasn't seen it because its too painful. She goes on to talk about the life of her grandmother (gave birth to 18 children and raised the 11 who survived) and mother with tremendous respect - all while noting that her mother was from a generation that was taught to "suck it in" and bury her own dreams, saving them for the lives of her children (the very definition of the character - Aibileen Clark - that she plays in the The Help).

Here's how Davis explained that connection to Essence:

What I learned from Aibileen is the courage it took to just live the every day being black in 1961 Mississippi. The courage it took to just stand on your own two feet, put food on the table and just survive. Just to simply survive. And to me, it’s homage to my mom, grandmother and women in my life.

You can see her go into even more depth in an interview she did with co-star Octavia Spencer on Tavis Smiley's show. All I'll say about that one is that she puts Tavis to shame.

It was in response to a question in the CBS clip about what it feels like to be in "full flight" right now that Davis shared the quote that is my title..."what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly." No matter what your feelings are about the controversy surrounding the movie The Help, Davis lets us know that it is in the process of justifying her choice to do the film that she has found her voice. As far as I'm concerned, that alone makes it all worthwhile. She is truly a Phenomenal Woman.

P.S. On another note, this week a novel about African American women titled The Healing will finally be published (I've had it on pre-order for weeks!) I've talked about the author Jonathan Odell before. Whenever the controversy about The Help comes up, I refer people to his first novel The View From Delphi. Last week, Odell tweeted a link to this review from Goodread about The Healing.

This is a story that seems to be about the slave experience in pre-Civil War Mississippi, but is, in many ways, a universal story. I loved that a strong, smart, independent woman was a central character. I loved that this was a story about the black person's experience that did not have a good-hearted white person come to the rescue and resolve all the problems. I loved that this was a story about how each generation touches future generations, and how important it is to learn that history and pass it along. I loved that this book was so well-written that I felt like I was living it along with the characters. "The Healing" is a beautiful story, and will resonate with me for a long time to come.
(Emphasis mine - important point)

I suggest you consider being a trend-setter and buy this book early. I have a hunch it's going to be one of the greats and am certain that I'll be talking about it in the weeks ahead.


  1. Wonderful post! America (both Black & white) continues to struggle with our history. While I do not expect one film to capture all of it. Many maids have other stories to tell about rape, cruelty and brutality. Those stories also need to be told. In the meantime, I am so happy for Viola as many opportunities open up for her to bring her own perspective.

  2. Thank you for the heads-up about this book! Ordering it right away. Can't wait.

  3. Not the late Octavia Bulter the writer, you intended to say - Octavia Spencer

  4. Mo'nin', Ms. Pants

    I'm late lookin' at this. Full week. But, Viola Davis...the first time I saw her was in one of my fav "little" movies - "Out Of Sight" which has been in cable rotation (if you've never watched it - DO). But, when I really zeroed in on her was in Law and Order as she had a recurring role as a defense attorney. You HEARD her first. THEN you saw her. That BEARing of hers...

    At 61, even being able to HAVE goose bumps is something I'm happy about.

    But, that's what she does to me. Frequently. Simply, an outSTANding woman.