Regina King directed Viola Davis in “Black Americana: A Photo Essay on Love and Pain” for W Magazine.
The shoot took place in the West Adams neighbourhood of Los Angeles and showcased a “classical portrait of Black American life.”
Davis was joined by her husband Julius Tennon and their 10-year-old daughter Genesis for the photos.
The story’s narrative depicted a family enjoying a Saturday afternoon at home, before Mom and Dad went out on the town that night. They then headed to church the next morning before receiving a horrible phone call.
King told the magazine of the shoot, “I don’t think any of us are particularly happy with the state of America, but we still embrace the fact that we are Black Americans, even with all of the things that have happened in history.”
She also touched on preparing for a career as a director: “As an actor, I was paying attention and not really knowing why I was paying attention—why I would stay behind, why I would be on set when it wasn’t even my scene. I didn’t really know why then, but I know now.”
The actress shared of the importance of collaboration: “I’m not really interested in being a part of something if it doesn’t feel collaborative, whether it is as a director, an actor, or a producer. By not wanting to include other people’s ideas, you could end up with something really unimaginative.”
Davis explained that King’s insistence on capturing Black life in its totality was what drew her to this project: “There’s a life beyond the tragedy, there’s life even within the tragedy, and there was a life before the tragedy.
“That you can be experiencing moments of joy when tragedy comes in and invades your life, and then it melts into something else—we understand that about life in general, but not always with Black folks in it. This is the first time I’ve ever done a photoshoot like this.”
She said of the racial stereotypes that persist in Hollywood despite the progress that’s been made: “It becomes about reinterpreting who we are to either look better than what we are, more noble, more aesthetically beautiful in a sort of assimilationist realm, or it’s another version of Blackness that is downtrodden.”
Davis also recalled studio executives scoffing at the idea that she could be considered sexy enough to have an attractive husband on “How to Get Away With Murder”.
“I feel like there is still a filter that we have to go through, and by the time you see us on-screen, we’ve become almost a Mr. Potato Head of who we actually are,” she said. “You’ve got to snip out this part for white people because it’ll become an indictment. And then what’s left is a huge lie. An apologetic lie.”