Viola Davis on The First Lady Backlash: ‘Critics Absolutely Serve No Purpose’

Posted 2022/04/26 11 0

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This month, Showtime premiered the anthology series The First Lady, documenting the lives of three famous First Ladies from different times in American history. Along with Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, the series stars Viola Davis as Michelle Obama. The series was met with mixed reviews upon its release, landing with a critical score of 43% along with a 44% audience score at Rotten Tomatoes.

Online, there had also been some complaints concerning the facial expressions Davis had used for her Obama portrayal. There had been enough of them for the negativity to make its way back to Davis, as she says in a new BBC News interview that she’s well aware of the situation. She admits that it’s hurtful to see such negative remarks, calling it an “occupational hazard” that comes with acting professionally.

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“It’s incredibly hurtful when people say negative things about your work. How do you move on from the hurt, from failure? But you have to. Not everything is going to be an awards-worthy performance.”

While some of their remarks can be offensive at times, Davis does not put too much stock into negative reviews. She questions if critics are really necessary, feeling like some people use this as an “opportunity to be cruel.” At the end of the day, however, Davis says she’s just there to do her job, for better or for worse.

“Critics absolutely serve no purpose. And I’m not saying that to be nasty either. They always feel like they’re telling you something that you don’t know. Somehow that you’re living a life that you’re surrounded by people who lie to you and ‘I’m going to be the person that leans in and tells you the truth’. So it gives them an opportunity to be cruel to you. But ultimately I feel like it is my job as a leader to make bold choices. Win or fail it is my duty to do that.”

Viola Davis Says Playing Michelle Obama Was Almost Impossible

It wasn’t so long ago that Michelle Obama was the First Lady of the United States, and this may have meant that there was more pressure on Viola Davis to have a more “accurate” portrayal of her. Davis feels that it was “almost impossible” to play Obama in a way that would satisfy everyone. As for what Obama herself may have thought about the portrayal, Davis is in the dark, as she has not spoken with the former First Lady directly.


“Either you’re doing too much or not enough… I don’t have any personal contact with Michelle Obama.”

New episodes of The First Lady premiere Sundays on Showtime. Created by Aaron Cooley, the series stars Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Gillian Anderson. Jayme Lawson also stars as a young Michelle Obama with O. T. Fagbenle and Julian De Niro playing the older and younger versions of Barack Obama, respectively. Dakota Fanning, Lily Rabe, Regina Taylor, Aaron Eckhart, Charlie Plummer, and Kiefer Sutherland also star.


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