Viola Davis says escapist movies and social media ‘destroys our art form’

Oscar winner Viola Davis says social media has undermined her art form, especially as it relates to modern theatrical movies.

The “Fences” and “The First Lady” actor delivered a blunt and juicy indictment of what it takes to market films nowadays. In a conversation about her content label JuVee at the annual Produced By Conference on Saturday, Davis discussed the notion of escapism at the cineplex and how tentpole movies can erode the nuance of storytelling.

“Social media has taken over the defining of this art form. I think that the word ‘escapism’ is something that is interesting — the goal all of us have is to sit in a movie with the popcorn and Sour Patch Kids and forget about our lives — but, literally, it destroys our art form,” she said.

Davis explained that her tween daughter consumes big commercial fare like Marvel, which Davis says she’s a fan of, but “every time you’re in a room selling a narrative, it’s about how much you can create a story that allows us to escape. The characters then become a Mr. Potato Head, become Bobble Heads. We forget who these people are really until a movie comes along and blows our mind.”

Sitting with husband and business partner Julius Tennon, Davis explained that she created JuVee Productions to help explore stories rooted in reality. Davis said those kinds of prestige projects exist for “seeing ourselves, our mess. But those narratives usually don’t have people in it who look like us. It’s a resistance to our humanity.”

Moderated by actor Yvette Nicole Brown on Century City’s Fox lot, aspiring producers jumped at the chance to ask Davis and Tennon for advice in building their projects. One Kenyan-born filmmaker in the crowd asked the pair how they deal with rejection from studios and networks when they’re out pitching.

“I would be bolder,” Davis suggested. “I have to say, especially as a Black person, there’s so many things that are taboo. Most of the people you’re in the room asking for money or for a greenlight, there are certain things you don’t say. It’s going to be too insulting. You don’t know until you try.”

“My mother always said, a closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” Tennon concluded.

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