Viola Davis opens up about her traumatic childhood and why she chose to forgive her abusive father.
Describing her poverty-stricken childhood in Central Falls R.I., Davis said that she and her five siblings were forced to dumpster dive for food while living in a condemned building and enduring physical and emotional abuse from their father and other children.
“How you react is based on survival,” said Davis. “The key is to survive. I did what was at my hand to do at 8 years old. I fought. And that fighting served me because I’m still on my feet.”
Also bearing witness to the abuse her father, Dan Davis, would inflict on her mother, Mae Alice, the 56-year-old surprisingly says she counts it “all as joy”.
“All of those things happened to me, but I own it. And it’s part of who I am.” She continues, “Everything I’ve experienced is what connects me to the world. It’s given me an extraordinary sense of compassion. It’s reconciling that young girl in me and healing from the past – and finding a home.”
The Academy Award winner adds that her father, who died in 2006 of pancreatic cancer, eventually “changed” and attempted to earn the forgiveness of his family.
“My mom said he apologized to her every single day. Every single day, he rubbed her feet. Forgiveness is not pretty. Sometimes people don’t understand that life is not a Thursday-night lineup on ABC. It is messy. He did hurt me then,” Davis acknowledges. “But love and forgiveness can operate on the same plane as anger.”
“I wanted to love my dad, and here’s the thing: My dad loved me. I saw it. I felt it. I received it and took it. For me, that’s a much better gift and less of a burden than going through my entire life carrying that big heavyweight of who he used to be and what he used to do.”
Davis says, “That’s my choice. That’s my legacy: forgiving my dad.”