Big star to represent small state at Oscars

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2012


Rhode Island could take home an Oscar this weekend, in the event that Central Falls native Viola Davis wins the statue for Best Actress for her role as Aibileen Clark in the film “The Help.”

Though a rising star, Davis has not forgotten her roots — she gave a shout-out to middle school students in Central Falls during her acceptance speech for outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January.

“(The students) are elated that she has mentioned us,” said Angelo Garcia, director of operations at the Segue Institute for Learning, a charter middle school in Central Falls, and a childhood friend of Davis. Davis’ niece is currently a student at the school, he said.

“She’s very driven as a professional and a person,” Garcia said of the actress. “As long as I’ve known her, she’s talked about being where she is now.”

Davis was a frequent actress in theater productions at Central Falls High School and took advantage of acting opportunities across the state, Garcia said.

After high school, Davis studied theater at Rhode Island College before leaving the state to continue her theater study at the Juilliard School in New York City.

“She’s a Rhode Island treasure,” said George Marshall, executive director of the Rhode Island International Film Festival and Davis’ former professor of communications at RIC. “How often does someone from Rhode Island get nominated for best actress?”

The film festival will host a simulcast showing of the Academy Awards at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, as well as a dinner and red-carpet event beforehand. Davis — “the ultimate American success story” — will be a principal focus of the event, Marshall said. 

“She is very focused on giving back to the community,” said Nicole Wielga, programming associate at the film festival. 

Davis donated money to the Segue Institute to start a theater program, Garcia said, and she has also donated to the Central Falls Library.

Central Falls has been plagued by high poverty rates and declared bankruptcy last August. But Davis’ achievements help “get rid of the misnomer that we’re gun-toting maniacs,” Garcia said.

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