Academy Award winner Viola Davis and her husband and fellow actor, Julius Tennon, are not just talking about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. They are actually putting their words into action and are committing resources towards the goal of achieving greater diversity in film.
Speaking to The Guardian, the power couple outlined how they are turning this goal into a reality.
In 2011, Davis and Tennon decided to start JuVee Productions, a multimedia company that seeks to solve the problem from the bottom up. But at first it was mainly for the benefit of Davis' career which was taking off at that time.
“We started it out of a need for her career, for Viola to be more than this woman who turns a piece of baloney into a filet mignon. She was getting one or two scenes in a movie and some guest star TV work, but after Antwone Fisher, there were a lot of eyes on her," Tennon said.
But soon enough they decided that they should create opportunities for people who were not represented often in mainstream US media. “While we had this elevation in the industry, we felt it was a chance to give opportunities to others, whether that be actors or below-the-line people,” Tennon said. “We consider ourselves the voice of the voiceless.”
In an e-mail to The Guardian, Davis argued that making movies and television more inclusive requires everyone's input. “The reason diversity is still an issue is that everyone is not ‘put to task’," she explained. “If a writer, director, cinematographer, actor of color is out there, they have the talent but haven’t had the opportunities. So, when the studios start putting together their movies, they go for who they know, who they’ve worked with … the hottest, buzziest, the one with the résumé … and most of them are white.”
She also added that, “No one says anything, because why would you? To change is to risk losing money, changing your vision, being exposed. It’s a problem that needs to be tackled from the studio heads who give the green light vote to film-makers who simply can envision a role differently, to producers who can give a budding gifted cinematographer, grip, writer of color a chance, and finally to audiences to plop down money to see a film character differently. It requires being awoke.”
Tennon has currently taken charge of JuVee productions from behind the scenes while Davis, being the more high profile star, has lent her star power to their projects in front of the camera.
And they have been true to their word. Their first feature film 2015's Lila And Eve, starring Davis and Jennifer Lopez, told the story of two mothers dealing with the death of their murdered children. 2016's Custody, also starring Davis soon followed. Next they will start production on the Personal History of Rachel Dupree, about an African-American woman who sets up a farm in South Dakota on 1917, and a biopic of Barbara Jordan, the first African-American woman from the south to be elected to the House of Representatives. Both films will be starring Viola Davis.
"As a company, we feel like we have to make sure that the content going out is above and beyond. When we create narratives, we want them to be whole and full and rich, and non-stereotypical,” Tennon said “We’re in a market now that’s accelerated by technology. Diversity is what we’re bringing to the digital space. We want content for everyone and content that people of color will consume.”
Let us hope that more celebrities start following their example, and not just the ones who belong to the minority.