Life

Viola Davis Only Has One Photograph Of Herself As A Child—Here’s Why It’s So Significant

Now, this is what we call a success story.

Viola Davis now owns one Oscar, which is more than most everyone in the world can say. Davis also only has one picture of herself as a child.

Most people take for granted their stacks of family albums and videos of their baby’s first steps saved to their iPhone camera rolls. But these photographic mementos are not something Davis takes lightly. The one photograph Davis has? It shows her as a kindergartner. It’s one of those portraits taken at school by an on-site photographer. And it’s the only photo she has of herself simply because her family didn’t own a camera. They never had the money to buy one.

Viola’s intimate familiarity with that photograph means its every detail is etched into her mind. “I have this expression on my face—it’s not a smile, it’s not a frown. I swear to you, that’s the girl who wakes up in the morning and who looks around her house and her life saying, ‘I cannot believe how God has blessed me,’” she told People magazine. I bet the little girl in the photograph never knew she’d grow up to win an Oscar!

Davis was one of five children, and her parents struggled to make ends meet. “I was the kind of poor where I knew right away I had less than everyone around me,” she told the magazine. “Our environment, our physical space reflected our income.”

She’s also the first African-American actress to have ever won an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy, so she’s certainly come a long way from those childhood days.

Viola Davis photo
Getty Images | Kevin Winter

“I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” she said after receiving the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

The stories she’s most interested in telling aren’t her own, despite her hardships. Rather, she’s passionate about telling the stories of those people who lived in obscurity and never got to share the narrative of their lives with others. These are the ones she’s hoping to portray on-screen.

“People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed,” she said in her speech at the Academy Awards.

So, as Davis tells the stories of those who never got to do it themselves, she’s also living her dreams and, therefore, telling her own story—one that 5-year-old in the photograph could have only imagined to be true.