Viola Davis knows how to make an audience see into the heart of a character, whether a burdened mother in Doubt or the flawed attorney in How to Get Away with Murder.
She hopes the same holds true for the critical issue examined by the documentary series Two Sides, the deaths of African-American men and women in confrontations with law enforcement.
It takes more than a video clip to understand a violent encounter, said Davis, an executive producer and narrator of the TV One program now airing in the US.
“Despite the fact that so many were caught on camera and so much in the public consciousness, it caused a divisiveness” instead of a determination to find common ground and solutions, Davis said. “We actually need to do something, but it never got to that point.”
As the series’ title suggests and Davis contends, the crisis demands an understanding of what officers and citizens face and, beyond that, the system enveloping them.
Among the cases examined in Two Sides: Ezell Ford, 25, fatally shot during a 2016 struggle with two Los Angeles police officers; John Crawford III, 22, shot by officers while carrying an air rifle at a Wal-Mart store in a Dayton, Ohio, suburb” Sandra Bland, 28, who hanged herself in a Hempstead, Texas, jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop and whose family disagreed with the ruling of suicide.
In each episode, law enforcement experts and independent observers discuss the circumstances of the deaths, including explanations of police regulations and procedures, and relatives and friends share memories of those who died and the impact of their loss.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, US Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Christopher Darden, a prosecutor in OJ Simpson’s murder trial, are among those offering commentary along with law enforcement agency representatives.
What officers face in the line of duty and what they risk must be taken into account, Davis said.
They have families and they want to go home safely at the end of their shift, she said. And, like any other citizen, Davis said, she herself depends on law enforcement for protection.
“Listen, if I’m in trouble I’m going to call 911, I’m going to need the police,” she said. But society tends to believe that police and others in positions of authority should not be questioned and that if “you’re on the other side, then you’re wrong.”
“Whereas I believe on both sides there is room for growth, and to be challenged and questioned,” said Davis, who produced the docu-series with her husband, Julius Tennon, and Lemuel Plummer.
She has the visibility and clout to throw behind such a project: She was Oscar-nominated for 2008’s Doubt and 2011’s The Help, won the trophy last year for Fences, and received an Emmy for her role in the ABC legal drama How to Get Away with Murder.
Davis dismisses the idea she has solutions to stop the repetitive violence — “I’m an actor. It’s not my skill set” — but she has hope.
“We have to come to some kind of middle ground,” she said. “It just hasn’t happened.”