Viola Davis, her husband, Julius Tennon, and their daughter Genesis Tennon star in a photo essay directed by Regina King for W magazine’s annual Directors Issue entitled, “BLACK AMERICANA: A Photo Essay On Love And Pain.” Both Davis and King have been on a role lately as recent winners of the NAACP Image Awards, starring in major films and producing and directing award-winning productions. These two are invincible.
King is making her second directorial debut in W magazine’s Directors Issue, and she was eager to share in this moment with Davis and her family to highlight and uplift the Black family.
The photo essay portrays a set of classic portraits depicting modern-day Black family living. The photos are reminiscent of an old-time feel with a Black and White aesthetic that we almost forget the images reflect the Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress and producer Viola Davis.
King’s intention when directing, alongside photographer Andre D. Wagner, was to craft a story that showcases happy, loving images of the Black family. She studied old interviews of her friend Davis, in which she listened to her saying, “the pain as well as the beauty in the bruises.” King believes that Davis and her family embody the idea of what she sees as Black Americana.
“I don’t think any of us are particularly happy with the state of America,” King shares with W Magazine, “but we still embrace the fact that we are Black Americans, even with all of the things that have happened in history.”
The images shot in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles are meant to show a Black family enjoying a Saturday afternoon at home, Mom and Dad hanging out for a night on the town later that night, church the following morning, and after an eventful weekend, Mom receives a horrible phone call.
Davis told W magazine that King’s eagerness to capture Black life in its richness is what initially drew her into participate in the project.
“There’s a life beyond the tragedy, there’s life even within the tragedy, and there was a life before the tragedy,” she said. “That you can be experiencing moments of joy when tragedy comes in and invades your life, and then it melts into something else—we understand that about life in general, but not always with Black folks in it. This is the first time I’ve ever done a photo shoot like this.”
To prepare for the timeless photos that would soon be captured, King, Davis and Ruth E. Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer who styled the photoshoot, studied photographs by Carrie Mae Weems, who is reputable for her subtle documentation of Black domestic life.
King honored Weem’s work especially for the shot which captured Davis receiving bad news.
Carter looked to the late Cicely Tyson for style inspiration, selecting garments in rich fabrics that registered their softness on film. She tells W magazine, “You’re looking for the feeling of it. That’s what connects you to the characters, who they are.”
The images are a pure and authentic artist’s impression of Black life. There’s a photo the family ad-libbed a photo snapping greens into a large bowl as many Black families are notorious for doing to prepare for Sunday’s dinner. The three joke, laugh and dance in the backyard. Genesis says this is not far from their usual daily vibe in the Tennon-Davis household.
“Music is always playing,” she tells W magazine while her parents posed for another shot in the backyard.
Absolutely stunning. Director King unquestionably has an eye for portraying Black art on camera. What a timeless work of art for Davis and her family to share in for many years to come.