Finding Me Book Summary - Finding Me Book explained in key points
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Finding Me summary

Viola Davis

A Memoir

4.6 (264 ratings)
23 mins
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    Finding Me
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    Viola’s childhood traumas continued to shape her as an adult.

    In 2015, on the set of Suicide Squad, Will Smith asked Viola Davis a simple question: “Who are you?” Smith explained that even though he was successful and wealthy, even though he’d starred in mega hits like Men in Black and Independence Day, in some ways he would always be the 15-year-old boy whose girlfriend had just dumped him. And now he wanted to know who Viola was.

    Viola could have answered in any number of ways, could have told him any number of pivotal stories.  

    For example, she could have told Smith about one night when she was fourteen years old and her mom and dad – MaMama and MaDada, as she and her five siblings called them – were fighting. Again. 

    MaDada, or Dan Davis, worked as a horse groomer. It was taxing work. Still, it didn’t pay well enough to keep food on the table or cover the electricity bill. And it certainly didn’t pay enough to quench MaDada’s insatiable thirst for alcohol. Viola’s MaMama – Mary Alice Davis – was the oldest of 18 children born to South Carolina sharecroppers. She’d had her first child at 15, her last child at 34, and Viola in between. MaMama did her best to shield her six children from MaDada’s drunken rages, even if it meant she was the primary target for his blows. But the series of apartments the Davis family lived in, first in South Carolina and later in Rhode Island, were tiny. Privacy was a hypothetical concept, and MaMama couldn’t shield her children from everything. Viola vividly remembers the night that her father staggered home from the bar, bleeding from a fresh stab wound in the side of his stomach, begging his wife not to call the ambulance. And the time when MaMama and MaDada were screaming at each other in the yard and MaDada yelled that his wife should tell him if he should stay or leave. Her children willed her to answer, Leave! But she sobbed for him to stay.  

    On this particular night, when Viola was 14, the fight was more violent than usual. MaDada wielded a glass, threatening to break it over MaMama’s head. Until now, none of the Davis children had ever intervened in their parents’ fights, for fear they would make things worse. But on this night, Viola snapped. She inserted herself between her parents and yelled for her father to stop. He didn’t. He brought the glass down on his wife’s face. Viola remembers the screams, the blood. She remembers shaking as she refused to stand down. “Give me the glass!” she screamed at her father. “Give it to me!” 

    And, after what seemed an agonizingly long time, MaDada gave her the glass and walked away. In that moment, Viola realized not only that her life would be a fight – she’d known that for a long time – but that she had what it would take to stand up and fight back. [pause]

    She could have told Smith another story. Like the time Dianne, Viola’s sister who’d stayed in South Carolina with her maternal grandparents, appeared like a vision in the Davises’ apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Viola remembers that day well. Not only had her long-lost sister arrived; it was one of the few days the hot water was turned on. But Dianne, who, unlike her siblings, was wearing  properly warm winter clothes and smelled of soap, was unimpressed by the unheated, rat-infested Central Falls apartment. 

    She whispered to the then five-year-old Viola, “You don’t want to live like this when you’re older, do you?” Viola shook her head no. Dianne told Viola that she needed to work out what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be – and fast. And that she had to work and work and work, until she was who she wanted to be, doing what she wanted to do. There was no other way to get out. Viola decided then and there that she would become somebody. The question that tugged at her insides – Am I somebody now? – would become a repeated refrain throughout her life. Am I somebody now?, she thought after graduating college, after getting accepted into Juilliard, even after winning a Tony, an Oscar, and an Emmy. It was Dianne’s advice that day that spurred Viola on; everything Viola did from then on was to satisfy that five year old, the little girl who knew she wanted something better. 

    But, answering Smith’s question, there was one memory in particular that leaped out at Viola. She was in the third grade. While the rest of her classmates were walking home from school, she was running. She ran because, every day, a gang of male classmates had made it their habit to chase her, calling Viola ugly, hurling the worst kinds of racial abuse at her. Usually, she made it home, out of breath, snot dripping from her nose, scared. But on this day there’d been a snowstorm. The streets were too slippery for Viola to outrun her pursuers. They caught her, threw her to the ground and beat her. 

    Even though she had proven herself, over and over again, even though she was starring in movies with Will Smith and had Oprah’s number in her mobile phone, at heart Viola was still that terrified, taunted eight-year-old girl. What Viola didn’t know? That little girl still had something to teach her . . . but we’ll come back to that later. 

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    What is Finding Me about?

    Finding Me (2022) is the highly anticipated memoir from Oscar-, Tony-, and Emmy-award winning actress Viola Davis. Davis is unafraid to share the rawest, most intimate details of her life story, from the brutal hardship of her childhood on Rhode Island, through her tenacious years as a Broadway stage actor, to her arrival into the upper echelons of Hollywood celebrity. 

    Who should read Finding Me?

    • Film fans who loved Davis in Doubt, Fences, The Help, and more
    • Theater aficionados interested in a backstage perspective on Broadway
    • Anyone who can’t resist an inspiring true story of success against all odds

    About the Author

    Viola Davis is the only Black actor to have achieved the “triple crown” of acting, winning an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for her work in film, television, and the theater. The New York Times named Davis one of the ten greatest actors of the twenty-first century. In addition to her acting work, she is an acclaimed producer and philanthropist. 

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