CANNES — A castle was a fitting venue to celebrate Viola Davis for the Kering award dinner Sunday night, perched atop the hill with expansive views over the city and bay. The courtyard was filled with candlelight, adding a romantic touch to the already picturesque setting.
“It makes me happy, it actually makes me happier than awards I have won for my work,” Davis told WWD about the Women in Motion recognition.
Davis took to the stage early in the evening — well, early by Cannes standards at 11 p.m. — to thank Kering chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault, film festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux and president Pierre Lescure for the honor.
Speaking powerfully, Davis cited a quote from Thomas Merton: “If you want to know me don’t ask me where I live or how I do my hair, but ask me what I live for, or better yet, ask me what is getting in the way of what I live for,” she said, teasing the fashion crowd.
“So as much as I love my Alexander McQueen — and I love my Alexander McQueen — I am always so moved when people tell me my work or my life has meant something to them,” Davis said. “At the end of the day I don’t want to leave something for people, I want to leave something in people and my art, my work has given me the opportunity to do that.”
Davis said growing up as a poor “chocolate girl,” she wanted to make a name for herself and thought becoming a famous actress would be the answer. “Now that I have progressed in my career, what I’ve realized is that I want to elevate storytelling for people of color.”
Speaking at the Kering Women in Motion talks, Davis said that she hit rock bottom in her acting career after winning an Oscar but still couldn’t find leading roles. “The only way to reconcile that anger was to find the roles myself. That was my response to that. It was sort of, excuse my language, ‘Ah, f–k it.’ And there was value to anger. There is value to a well placed f–k it. Because with that, with that burst, I feel like that burst represents that one moment of change, that after that you can never be the same.” That newfound motivation led her to start her own production company, JuVee Productions, with her husband Julius Tennon.
She said we should move on from the idea of Old Hollywood, including Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford. “Now we have a different life with people of fighting for space. The Joan Crawfords are replaced by Shaniqua Watkins, Garcelle Rodriguez, you know, these people who are rare, if storytelling were more expansive.”
Davis also took issue with the idea of people only seeing the end result for actors. “We want to see the Oscars. We want to see people dressed in pretty dresses and then they get the award. It’s like she won, she finally won. And you see them walk off the stage and you imagine for them the life you want. That’s why that’s the only issue I have with vision boards is people put a vision of their lives on the board of where they want to be. But they don’t know that that destination comes with reality. It’s the minutiae of actually being there,” she said, adding that in Hollywood the reality is being judged by age, race and beauty.
But on Sunday night, it was not only a celebration of Davis — clad in a bright green Alexander McQueen suit and Boucheron jewels — as much as it was about pretty dresses, too.
Letitia Wright was also in Alexander McQueen, and fangirling a bit over Davis. “She’s there, she’s right there,” said the “Black Panther” star of spotting Davis. Hollywood is changing for the better, with more roles for women, said Wright. She’s in town presenting her film “The Silent Twins” made with an all-female cast and crew. “I think you just need to give us the space to do it and we just shine.”
“Cold War” actress Joanna Kulig was up to antics again with her fellow juror Edgar Ramirez on the red carpet. She was wearing a bright red and pink suit from Magda Butrym. “I always try to wear Polish designers,” she said of her hometown loyalty. “I think it’s cool to support smaller designers and women designers.”
The men were tipping the style scales as well, with Riz Ahmed in a velvet bathrobe from Saint Laurent and director Lukas Dhont in a colorful pastel suit from Gucci.
Pinault, who created the award in 2015 with wife Salma Hayek, was reveling in a full-scale party return to Cannes this year. Why is he putting so much into the metaverse when we are just returning to IRL events?
“The physical connection with people will always be important, I’m a deep believer of that, but look at the rise of e-commerce and stores. Stores have never been so important and so powerful, and it’s the same. We will find things in the metaverse that are new and incredible but we [still] need real connection and it is not endangering that,” he said. “We have learned a lot and moved a lot in a very short period of time.”
The movement was on the dance floor as well, with Italian band Alessandro Ristori & the Portofinos blasting out retro hits such as “Gloria.”
Un Certain Regard jury president Valeria Golino, wearing Gucci, was allowing herself one night off. “My jurors have been having fun, me less. It’s a lot of work with full days and we have eight more to go. I go home at midnight while they stay out. I’ve learned my lesson,” she said. “But tonight I’m going to have all the fun.”