The Devastating Details From Viola Davis' Childhood

Note: The following article includes a discussion of domestic abuse.

Viola Davis is an EGOT winner and one of the biggest stars in the world today, but as she revealed in her autobiography, her younger years were anything but glamorous. From poverty to bullying, many of the details from her childhood are downright heartbreaking. 

News of Davis' autobiography, "Finding Me," first broke in July 2021. At the time, she'd promised in a statement that there would be no sugar-coating of any of what she'd been through (via AP). "This is my story ... straight no chaser," she said. A few months later, ahead of the book's release, she doubled down on that in an interview with People. Telling the outlet that writing the book was an act of coming to terms with her full story, Davis explained that while it was easy to focus on everything she'd achieved, her lower moments had played a pivotal role in all of that. In particular, she spoke about seeing her younger self through new eyes. "I'm looking at little Viola, and I see how strong she was, and how she was just a spitfire," she mused. 

Sadly, younger Davis didn't really have an option not to be one. In fact, the very first pages of "Finding Me" paints a picture of the horrific bullying she endured, with little boys from her school chasing her home every day, hurling both rocks and racial slurs her way (via Medium). Ultimately, she managed to get it to stop by threatening them with a crochet needle — but that was just part of what she endured growing up. 

A tough home life translated to a difficult school life for Viola Davis

Viola Davis has never made a secret of her poor background. In fact, after winning an Oscar for her performance in "Fences" back in 2017, she revealed in the press room that she'd grown up living in a series of apartments overrun with rats (via Harper's Bazaar). In "Finding Me," she went into more detail about those less-than-ideal living spaces and also shared how that contributed to the way she was treated at school. 

Davis was terrified of the rats in her home, so much so that if she needed the bathroom during the night, she was too afraid to run to the bathroom. That played a role in her years-long struggle with bed-wetting. What's more, because they usually didn't have real soap, that meant she wasn't able to get rid of the smell. At school, that led to teachers shaming her and her older sister, and both girls being sent to the school nurse for a hygiene lesson. However, as Davis noted, the concerned adults did no digging into the home background that led to the issue in the first place. 

Teachers weren't the only ones to remark on Davis and her siblings, though. In another heartbreaking recollection, Davis shared that the kids she went to school with refused to drink from the water fountain after her, claiming that she was unclean. Devastatingly, when Davis tried to fight back on one occasion, she was the one who was punished. 

Viola Davis also witnessed domestic abuse

Poverty wasn't the only thing Viola Davis was exposed to while she was growing up. She also saw her father's abuse of her mother — and in "Finding Me," she shared some of the horrific attacks to which she bore witness. 

On one occasion, she shared, her father had ordered her and her siblings to help find their mother so that he could kill her. They eventually found her hiding in a drug store — and Davis recalled feeling ashamed that so many people she knew through school, from a teacher's spouse to peers, had seen the dramatic situation unfold. Sadly, the abuse continued for years after that. On another occasion, when Davis was in college, she'd had to take in her little sister when once again, her mother feared for her life. 

Ultimately, Davis' father turned over a new leaf, and she even ended up building a solid relationship with him. As the actor told People, their newfound dynamic was based on the man he was before he died, rather than who he'd been when he was younger. 

Even with all she went through and witnessed as a child, Davis has gone on to become one of the most respected actors in the business. Don't say she made it in spite of everything, though. As she said to People in the lead-up to her book launch, "All of those things happened to me, but I own it. And it's a part of who I am."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.