Getting Away With…Hyperbole?

Viola Davis is a talented actress who has paid her dues to reach the highest levels of critical and popular acclaim.  She caught widespread notice in her role as a dedicated and conflicted mother in the movie Doubt, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.  She also received raves for her role in The Help.  For the past several years she has starred in the television drama How to Get Away with Murder, where she became the first African American to receive an Emmy as Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

In 2010 she won a Tony Award for playing Rose in August Wilson’s Fences.  Last night she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her reprisal of that role in the movie version of the play, opposite Denzel Washington.  She thus became the first African American to achieve acting’s “Triple Crown:” an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony.  She is a star both on and off the screen and stage.

Last night Ms. Davis gave a gracious and moving acceptance speech in which she thanked God, her parents, husband and the rest of her family, colleagues and studios.  Yet there was one thing that she said that bothered me.  After thanking the Academy for bestowing the award upon her and noting the importance of telling the stories “of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition” and those “who fell in love and lost,” she went on to say:

I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

That line got a lot of applause—from a room full of other artists.  But it left me wondering whether Ms. Davis, in all her eloquence and excitement, may have stumbled into a pothole of hyperbole and self-congratulation.

The only profession?  Really?

Well, I can think of many other professions and vocations that also celebrate “what it means to live a life.”  Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals do, especially those who care for people who are elderly and have lived…a lot!  Teachers do, as they strive to open the minds and imaginations of their students.  Whitewater rafting guides do, as they help others experience the power of nature and challenge their own physical and mental limits.  Parents do, not only by nurturing their children but also by the witness of their own lives.  Priests do, as we are given the privilege to accompany people sacramentally as infants, children, teens, adults, elders and finally as they pass from this life to the next.  I’m sure that you could think of others.

Artists enrich our lives tremendously.  As Viola Davis testified, they help us to celebrate and reflect upon the meaning of life.  But as she failed to acknowledge, they aren’t the only people who have something to say and celebrate about life. We can all do that in our own ways, with the gifts and vocations that God has given each of us.–JC