Viola Davis to Speak at Smith This Spring

Photo courtesy of Art Streiber | The Student Events Committee will host a discussion with Viola Davis – the first African American actress win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – in the spring.

Photo courtesy of Art Streiber | The Student Events Committee will host a discussion with Viola Davis – the first African American actress win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – in the spring.

Michelle S. Lee ’16, Editor-in-Chief
Veronica Brown ’16, Associate Editor
Anya Gruber ’16, Associate Editor

Viola Davis, award-winning actress and star of the hit television show “How to Get Away with Murder,” will speak in John M. Greene Hall on March 2 in an event hosted by the Student Event Committee (SEC) and moderated by Africana Studies Professor Andrea Hairston.

This past September, Davis became the first African American actress to be awarded the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Beyond her starring role in “How to Get Away with Murder,” Davis earned an Academy Award nomination for her lead role in the 2011 film “The Help,” as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in the 2008 film “Doubt.”

Davis’s Emmy acceptance speech drew attention to the need for diversity in television programs. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” said Davis during her Emmy Awards speech. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

The lecture is one in a series of large-scale lectures hosted by the SEC since 2012. Previous speakers include journalist and TV personality Anderson Cooper and Piper Kerman, author of “Orange is the New Black.”

“The Student Event Committee has been interested in bringing Viola Davis to campus for several years now, but the opportunity could not have come at a more important time,” said Lena Wilson ’16, Chair of SEC.

“As a study of women and gender major with a real interest in media representation, I cannot think of a better person to bring to campus,” said SEC Vice Chair Becca Damante ’17.

“When I first heard the news that Viola Davis was coming to Smith, I was speechless,” said Kiki Teshome ’19, Films Chair of SEC. “‘How to Get Away with Murder’ is one of the few shows I am willing to wait weekly for, not only because Ms. Davis does a wonderful job of portraying such a complex character, but also because, as a black woman, her role as Annalise Keating reminds myself and others of our own complexity and greatness.”

Davis’s acclaim in the television and film industry as a woman of color, as well as her success playing the multi-dimensional law professor Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away with Murder,” has increased consciousness of unequal racial representation in the entertainment industry.

“On the show, Ms. Davis’s character Annalise Keating is a black woman who is allowed to be flawed, sympathetic and multifaceted, a revolutionary feat that could never have been achieved without [Davis’s] fearless work,” Wilson said. “I am so excited that we will be hosting [Davis] in conversation with Professor Hairston on Smith’s campus in particular, where it is especially important that we uplift black voices and celebrate black women’s art.”

Hairston, who teaches theater and Africana studies at Smith and is a writer and performer herself, welcomes Davis’s visit to campus.

“Ms. Davis’s successful career is an amazing feat. The entertainment industry is not just white-dominated, it’s also male-dominated. The stats on roles for women and people of color in theater and film are pathetic,” said Hairston. “Ms. Davis defies these statistics.  She is one of our grand storytellers.”

Hairston hopes to moderate the discussion with a focus on both Davis’s impact as a public figure as well her personal path as an actress of color.

“Story is how we order the cosmos. If we want to change the world, we must change the story. So, I want to talk with Ms. Davis about strategies for dealing with or changing the industry,” Hairston said. “What helped her develop as an artist? Who were the collaborators, the community of artists that supported her work? What sustains, challenges and inspires her? What gives her hope?”

The event is open to the public. Tickets will be available in February. Priority pickup for Smith students will be open on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Office of Student Engagement. Tickets for Five College students, Smith faculty and staff and the general public will be available on Feb. 4 at 9 a.m. Tickets will be free for Smith students, $5 for Five College students, $15 for Smith faculty and staff and $25 for general admission.

2 Comments

  1. Should one assume that “Smith students” references current students and not alum?

  2. Donna Abelli says:

    What is the cost for Alum?

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