Being branded ugly defined me more than anything else, says Viola Davis

·2-min read

Viola Davis said she put on a “mask of bravery” over her years of success but “really believed” she was ugly after childhood bullying.

The Oscar-winning actress, 56, told Oprah Winfrey during a Netflix special how she would run home to avoid school bullies abusing her every day.

Davis, who has gone on to win top awards for stage and screen, including two Tonys and a Bafta, said: “As soon as that bell rang I would run home because I knew the same eight to nine boys were going to be chasing me – calling me black, ugly – and they would pick up anything they could find on the side of the road: bricks, sticks.

“The level of hatred when they were saying those words, that really is the memory that defined me.

“As I went through my life, as much as I put on that mask of bravery, confidence, being that boss woman that people talk about… but inside was the damaged little girl that really, really believed that she was ugly, that she was not enough.

“That’s what defined me more than anything else.

“I wish it were a different story but it was so powerful. I made the decision age 28 or 29 when I went into therapy, that I wanted it to be different.”

Davis grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where she said her family often had no hot water, gas or electricity and rats would roam the building.

The 89th Academy Awards – Press Room – Los Angeles
Viola Davis with the Best Supporting Actress award for Fences at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017 (Ian West/PA)

Davis added: “It was a life of abject poverty, a life of deprivation. There was plaster coming off the walls, always being hungry, plumbing never worked, never having a phone.

“One of our first apartments was infested with rats, at night you had to put your hands over your ears so you couldn’t hear them eating the pigeons on the roof at night.”

Davis told Winfrey that she had reflected on her past during the pandemic lockdown to write her memoir, Finding Me.

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