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Viola Davis Was Criticized for Her Lip Expressions While Playing Michelle Obama & Is 'Glad It's Over'

Junie Sihlangu
May 01, 2022
01:30 P.M.
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Viola Davis has struggled with criticism based on her age and appearance throughout her career. So it was no surprise when she played the role of the former first lady Michelle Obama and got judged.


In December 2020, Viola Davis was interviewed by "60 Minutes," where she opened up about her role in the film "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." She revealed how she initially thought she couldn't play Ma Rainey as she still saw herself as a 19-year-old girl who was too young. 

The actress felt like someone who had been in the industry for 40 or 50 years would've been better suited for the heavyweight role of the rough-around-the-edges songstress. Then she realized she was a little older than Ma Rainey.

Viola Davis plays Esther in the play "Intimate Apparel" on May 25, 2001. | Source: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images


In 2020, Davis, who was more "put together" than her Ma Rainey character, had been acting for over thirty years, having started on the theater stage. She then got into film acting in various influential roles, including as the iconic blues singer Ma Rainey.

In one scene in the movie, Davis' character was seen demanding a coke on a hot summer day from the white men who profited through her music before she could record tracks. She buys a bottle of Coca-Cola for herself and drinks the whole bottle before recording.

Viola Davis at the 51st Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards on May 24, 2001, in New York City. | Source: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images


When "60 Minutes" asked her if she managed to drink the whole bottle in one take, Davis responded affirmatively. The actress then explained that the scene was symbolic and wasn't really about the coke, saying:

“It's about what I deserve. What I've worked for. What I've earned.”


The truth behind Davis was that she had already started calling herself an actress when she was in high school. She had also begun to imagine herself on stage but needed something to catapult her to her dreams. 

The actress also shared how she had no doubt and ultimately knew she was talented from a young age. Davis studied theater in college and was so gifted that she received a scholarship to New York's Juilliard. 

Meryl Streep and Viola Davis at the ceremony honoring the latter with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on January 5, 2017, in Hollywood, California. | Source: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images


She even had a chance to star alongside another legendary actress, Meryl Streep, in the movie "Doubt." Streep was so impressed by Davis's acting that she lobbied for her at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards!

While standing at the award ceremony's stage, "The Devil Wears Prada" actress urged "someone" to give Davis a movie! Being recognized and praised by the even bigger star felt like "everything" to a young and upcoming Davis.

Meryl Streep and Viola Davis at the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Cocktail Reception on January 29, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images


In February 2018, while speaking onstage at the Women in the World event, Davis shared how she considered herself successful as an actress. She compared herself to Streep, Sigourney Weaver, and Julianne Moore but shared how people downgraded her, saying:

“People say you're a black Meryl Streep.”

Viola Davis at Showtime's FYC Event and premiere for "The First Lady" on April 14, 2022, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images


Davis was quite critical of Hollywood for still providing few opportunities for black actors. The star explained that even though she'd "made it," she still had to continue battling as a black actress, stating:

“It's still a fight every single day.”

The "How To Get Away With Murder" actress and other black stars continued fighting with the filmmaking business that decided who they were and how to market them. It included black actors being made secondary in stories and not the main characters.


Viola Davis on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on April 11, 2022. | Source: Randy Holmes/ABC/Getty Images


Besides battling Hollywood, Davis also had an internal fight with herself over her appearance. After being named L'Oréal Paris' new brand ambassador in 2019, the actress confessed how she'd never associated femininity and beauty with herself.

The woman, who grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, shared how she didn't think she had those attributes. That same year she appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," where she addressed the reason behind her wearing wigs.

Viola Davis at the GBK and La Peer Pre-Globes Luxury Lounge on January 4, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Jesse Grant/Getty Images


She explained how difficult it was to moisturize and maintain black hair, especially in afro form, leading her to choose wigs. What stopped her from wearing wigs was when she wore one to get an MRI.

Using metal pins to hold the wig and being in the magnetic machine led the pins to shoot out like bullets! The tech woman in the room ducked and screamed as she tried avoiding the pins, but Davis refused to remove the wig even afterward!

Viola Davis on season 3 of "Sunday Today with Willie Geist" on May 5, 2019. | Source: Mike Smith/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images


In April 2022, she delved further into the wig and appearance issue with Oprah Winfrey. She noted how people fought daily to be seen by others and by themselves, and in a scene in "How To Get Away With Murder," she removed her makeup and wig!

The actress said she'd asked for that iconic scene to be included in the show to make her character look authentic. While dealing with a cheating husband, Davis' character bravely pulled off their wig and washed off all her makeup on television!


During her conversation with Jimmy Kimmel, the star revealed that she went through menopause. Davis shared how menopause was so erratic that she loved her husband one day and the next wanted to kill him!

One of the other symptoms she experienced, along with other women, was "The weight gain, it's like that cartoon where a little girl gets on the scale, and a friend runs up behind her and says get off that thing…."


There are also mood swings and more, and to illustrate how lousy menopause was, the actress described as such, "Menopause is hell. Menopause is a dark hole." In April 2022, Davis was back on Kimmel's show talking about being 56.

The star first jokingly revealed that someone dressed her in the green suede suit and purple shirt she wore to the show. Davis also confessed that even though she worked out, being over 50 meant things got "wider" and "bulgier."


The "The Help" actress also shared how she hilariously weighed herself several times. Davis even tried removing a pin from her hair before getting mad because the weight on the scale wasn't going down!

The "Finding Me" author also seemed to be on a keto diet. However, Davis figured she'd gained weight during the pandemic because of the amounts of liquor she drank; she even had tequila Thursday Zoom meetings with her friends!


Despite the ups and downs with her image, the late screenwriter August Wilson, who wrote "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," once boosted her confidence for life. Wilson told her while watching "Seven Guitars," "Viola, you're just so beautiful!"

However, the truth for her was, "I've never felt feminine." Her struggles with her self-image luckily failed to stop the actress from being all that she could, and she recently played the role of another formidable woman, Michelle Obama.


Viola Davis at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards on April 25, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images


Davis got to play Obama in a Showtime series, "The First Lady," and Kimmel felt she'd nailed the first lady's walk and voice. The actress proudly produced the show but shared how she was hiding from Obama because she hadn't spoken to her about the series!

Davis did, however, speak to Obama before the 10-episode series was created and released. Unfortunately, the actress refused to say what was said between her and the former first lady, saying:

“It's more important that I protect the privacy of my sister than the TV show.”


The star revealed to Kimmel how intimidated she felt playing Obama that when she finished filming, her feelings were, "I'm glad it's over." Davis admitted she was stressed because everyone loved Obama and knew what she sounded and looked like, jokingly adding:

“I don't want Michelle Obama calling me, cussing me out.”



To get in shape and ready for her role as Obama, Davis woke up at 6 a.m. to exercise for an hour three times weekly. The actress worked on her arms to try and match the former first lady's defined and beautiful ones.

The star [Viola Davis] felt the power wasn't meant to be given to anyone else or apologized for.

Despite all her efforts, Davis was still criticized for her portrayal of Barack Obama's wife. The Oscar Award-winning star felt her lips were over-pursed, and her facial expressions were insulting and distracting.

Viola Davis on the red carpet during the 14th Rome Film Festival on October 26, 2019, in Rome, Italy. | Source: Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images


Davis addressed the criticism with BBC News, saying it was "incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work." However, she also acknowledged that criticism was an acting "occupational hazard." 

The actress said she moved on from the hurt hurled at her because she knew her performances wouldn't always be seen as "awards-worthy." In a Time 100 clip, Davis shared what she told her daughter about women's appearances, and it fits in perfectly for her criticism.


She said women needed to stop apologizing because they were at a significant point in history where they had to step into their power. The star felt the power wasn't meant to be given to anyone else or apologized for.

Streep's former co-star said women needed to know that they deserved to be right there in whatever they did. The incredible actress and woman noted how females had to realize they had voices.