Actress Viola Davis to speak about experiences in activism

Award-winning actress Viola Davis will be on campus for the University Lecture Series on April 4. Tickets are available today, starting at noon. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

From “The Help” and “Fences” to “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Suicide Squad,” Viola Davis has been making screen appearances since 1996.

Soon, a speech at USF can be included in her list of appearances.

Davis will be coming to campus for the University Lecture Series (ULS) during USF Week on April 4 to speak on her experiences as an actress and activist. Students can start reserving tickets at noon at

Over the years, Davis has worked as an actress and producer, including her show “How to Get Away With Murder.”

In 2015, she was the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. The series follows defense lawyer and professor Annalise Keating, who gets involved in the complex cases of her students’ and clients’ lives. Davis won her first Academy Award this past year for “Fences,” and is an Oscar- and Tony-winner.

Davis grew up impoverished in Rhode Island with the goal of making a better life for herself and her family. She started with theater, doing performances both on and off Broadway before transitioning to TV.

Davis said a scene from “The Exorcist” serves as a good metaphor for life. In 2012, when she gave the commencement speech at Providence College in Rhode Island, she emphasized the scene where the main character, Reagan, has the words “Help me” scratched into her stomach.

“You know, your authentic self is constantly trapped under the weight of the most negative forces in this world.  And it will be an everyday battle,” she said. “You know, sometimes I felt, and you will feel, that who you are is hidden away like a piece of really great jewelry that you keep in a box, and you only take it out during special occasions. 

“Yet your everyday persona is a type of demonic possession.  But the demons aren’t gargoyles or red-faced men with horns, but everyone else’s dreams, desires, definitions of success, greed, the pursuit of personality instead of character, the exchange of love and family, for money and possessions, entitlement with no sense of responsibility, and the most frightening demon of all, lack of purpose.”

After winning her Emmy, Davis said she now has the luxury of being picky about what projects she’s doing, both as an actress and as a director, according to She’s been working toward taking on complex roles both as a woman and as an African-American. These are not only complex roles, but also roles that push her outside of her comfort zone.

The university is already expecting her lecture to fill the Marshall Student Center Ballroom, and is planning to set up overflow seating and a live-stream in the Oval Theater. The lecture is free and open to the public, with preference seating going to USF students.

The last time ULS needed an overflow room was spring 2016 when Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton came to campus. 

Davis will receive $70,000 for her lecture. This is the most USF has spent this school year on a ULS speaker.