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Viola Davis produced series tackles racism through comedy

Posted June 21

Viola Davis is determined to be at the forefront of change in Hollywood.

"We are in a zeitgeist that is hungry for disruptors," Davis told CNN in a recent interview. "We're hungry for those voices that force us to be awoke."

The Academy Award winner and her husband Julius Tennon launched JuVee Productions in 2012 to create entertainment with an emphasis on inclusive storytelling, something both Davis and Tennon maintain there isn't enough of in Hollywood.

"We want to change the way the industry puts out narratives with people of color," Tennon told CNN in a recent interview. "There has been more opportunity, but there is still a long way to go."

The couple hopes their project "American Koko" is a step toward progress.

"American Koko" is a satirical web series created by Diarra Kilpatrick, who also stars in the show. Kilpatrick plays a detective who specializes in investigating issues involving race.

Set in a fictional post-racial America, "American Koko" addresses real and topical challenges with a comedic approach.

"There is no greater voice than that of an artist," Davis said. "'American Koko' does what true art is supposed to do."

Kilpatrick said she started writing the series, now in its second season on ABC digital, when President Obama was still in office. She debuted the series independently on YouTube in 2014, before it ultimately caught the attention of JuVee Productions.

"I thought it was hilarious that people were saying 'Obama is in the White House so racism is over,'" Kilpatrick told CNN. "That was good fodder to explore the racism that was going on, and the race problems that people were experiencing."

"American Koko" tackles one racial stereotype in particular that has bothered Davis throughout her life.

"The "Angry Black Woman" has become a label that we've stamped upon generations of black womanhood," Davis said. "It's become a way of silencing us, dismissing our pain and erasing our femininity. Perhaps it's fear that has disallowed many to ask the most powerful question, why is she angry?"

The second season of "American Koko" was filmed in December, one month after the election of Donald Trump. Kilpatrick immediately took to her laptop to re-write scripts to reflect the new mood in the country.

"[Americans] were kind of walking around this dark house pretending, 'Oh, it's not dirty, the lights are just out,'" Kilpatrick explained in comparison to perceptions when Obama was in office. "Then all of the sudden the lights came on, and it was like, 'It's a mess.'"

Davis hopes "American Koko" keeps those lights on.

"It will transform, provoke, make you rethink and hopefully connect to a part of yourself that has been hidden."

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