Top 10 Shocking Reveals We Learned from Oprah+ Viola: A Netflix Special Event

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Top 10 Shocking Reveals We Learned from Oprah+ Viola: A Netflix Special Event

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Tal Fox
"Oprah + Viola" was full of shocking reveals. For this list, we'll be looking at the most unexpected, surprising and eye-opening facts we learned about this multi-award winning actress and philanthropist. Our countdown includes the teachers who saved her, growing up in poverty, living with rats, and more!
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Top 10 Shocking Reveals We Learned from Porah and Viola Netflix Special Event


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Shocking Reveals We Learned from Oprah and Viola Netflix Special Event.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most unexpected, surprising and eye-opening facts we learned about this multi-award winning actress and philanthropist.

Will you be reading Viola’s autobiography? Let us know in the comments.

#10: She Almost Went into Teaching



Becoming an actress was Viola’s childhood dream. She shared an anecdote about a time when her acting coach laid out all the hardships of the industry, but her aspirations were greater than her fear. However, when it came time to choose a major, Davis opted for a path with a stable paycheck, deciding to become a teacher instead. Growing up in poverty was likely a heavy influence on this decision. But she missed that creative spark and fell into a depression until her sister urged her to pursue her lifelong dream. With just enough money for one theater school application, she decided to go big. Today, Davis’ still a major champion of education, stating it saved her life.

#9: The Healing Process of Acting


The actress detailed the healing power of her profession, saying that it gave her an outlet for emotions she couldn’t express in her real life. Masquerading as someone else shielded her from the shame she could face in reality. For Davis, acting is like holding up a mirror to the audience and helping them connect with humanity. One notable example she gives is the empowerment she felt playing Annelise in “How to Get Away with Murder.” She credits the character with liberating her as it gave her permission to be all the things she was told she wasn’t. She took things a step further by making a deliberate acting decision to help other women connect to the role too.

#8: The Teachers Who Saved Her


As we’ve already mentioned, education is super important to the actress, as is the value of outstanding teachers. Outside of the documentary, she’s talked about Jeff Kenyon, a teacher who made a huge impact on her by reminding her that she was enough. But during her conversation, she talks about her school’s principal, who showed her and her family compassion during a particularly rough time. She would call Viola and her sister into her office so she could give them bags full of clothes, knowing they had none. Understandably, this memory stayed with her, and she recalls how it helped ease some of the shame felt over her circumstances. Great teachers can really change your life.

#7: Enduring Harassment


As you might know, Davis is a strong supporter of the #MeToo movement and has addressed crowds at the Women’s March. It’s only briefly touched upon in the Netflix special, but she reveals her own #MeToo experiences. Davis explains how it was treated as totally normal for men to offer money in exchange for certain favors during her childhood. She notes that this kind of behavior didn’t even have a name back then, let alone get called out. It’s shocking yet unsurprising to learn just how normalized these behaviors were and how no one was looking out for these young women. Davis now fights to give all women a voice in the fight against harassment.

#6: A Defining School Day’s Memory


Good or bad, memories from your formative years can shape the person you become. For Viola, that defining memory was having to bolt out the classroom door as a kid to avoid a group of boys who’d torment her. They’d throw things and hurl the most vile language her way while she never stopped running. The actress says this is the memory that characterized her because of the person it forced her to become. She also shared the adversity her mom and sister endured during their school days because of their race. Both were beaten by their teachers for not being light-skinned enough; as a result, her mom ultimately dropped out of school in eighth grade (xref).

#5: Growing Up in Poverty


Viola’s upbringing in extreme poverty is a thread that runs through much of the conversation. She grew up with her parents and five siblings in Central Falls, Rhode Island. They often had no food, barely any furniture or clothes, faulty electricity, and no plumbing or hot water. Their building was subject to several fires and a rat infestation so bad that we’ll return to it later. At one point, the situation was so dire that Viola and her sister couldn’t even go to school. The most heartbreaking part is the shame she felt over circumstances beyond her control. But it helped her appreciate the people who showed her love and empathy even more.

#4: A Troubled Home Life


The actress describes her mom as a “maternal warrior” and details a complicated relationship with her “strict and violent” father. Although she calls him “the first man who loved me,” his personal demons drove a wedge between them that took many years to resolve. One particular incident she recalls was an especially heated argument between her parents. She remembered how at age 14, she tried to intervene before her dad physically hurt her mom. Naturally, this had a monumental impact on her relationship with her father. But it also drove her to take actions that would help her pursue a starkly different life.

#3: Finding Forgiveness


Interestingly, Davis had no doubt that her father loved her— he went out of his way to make sure she knew it. But the question still arises; how does one forgive years of trauma? It was a difficult journey, but as she explained, it all began with accepting that she couldn’t change the past. She goes into more detail in the book, explaining that she chose to receive his love rather than carry around this burden from her childhood. She also says that he changed and would apologize to her mom every day. By the time her dad passed away in 2006, their rift had been healed.

#2: Living with Rats


We briefly mentioned the rat infestation earlier, but it’s too shockingly horrific to just mention in passing. Their building was in such disarray that they’d cover up while sleeping out of fear of being bitten by rats. Viola wouldn’t even go into her kitchen cabinets, knowing that they would undoubtedly be there. She remembered hearing them eat everything from pigeons to their belongings. There’s one unbelievably harrowing story she shares about hearing the rats munching on her doll and then waking up to see its chewed-off face. If that sounds bad, then this story her sister Dianne shared about rats crawling into cribs will leave you completely aghast.

#1: Praying for a Husband


You know that saying about if you want something hard enough? Well, that was true for Viola’s love life. After several doozies, her friend urged her to pray for the man she wanted — but warned her to be accurate while putting in her request. Amazingly a mere three and a half weeks later, her prayers were answered — down to the very details she asked for. She and ex-football player and actor Julius Tennon married in 2003, she became stepmom to his two kids, and in 2011 they adopted their daughter, Genesis. It’s such a wonderful ending to this insightful conversation, and we have no doubt plenty of romantic hopefuls will take inspiration. Talk about your fairytale love story!
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