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Viola Davis is being criticized for her 'exaggerated' portrayal of Michelle Obama in 'The First Lady,' but some viewers are saying it's realistic

Apr 19, 2022, 01:25 IST
Viola Davis portrays Michelle Obama as she sits for her official portrait by artist Amy Sherald in "The First Lady."Paramount Global Distribution Group
  • Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama in the Showtime series "The First Lady."
  • She purses her lips prominently in the role.

Viewers are criticizing Viola Davis for her portrayal of Michelle Obama in the Showtime series "The First Lady."

The show follows three first ladies having parallel experiences during their tenure in the White House with their spouse. The other two first ladies are Eleanor Roosevelt, played by Gillian Anderson, and Betty Ford, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

During the premiere, which aired on Sunday, some viewers tweeted that they were distracted by Davis' acting choices, particularly her decision to purse her lips prominently while playing Obama.

One user described her lips as "insane," another called it "exaggerated lip work," another wrote that "the mouth thing looks like satire," and someone else said they were "staring dead into Viola's mouth the entire time."

Others suggested that the choice made the performance appear to be more like a "Mad TV" or "Saturday Night Live" parody than a straight drama.


One viewer expressed their love for the actress before sharing their critique of her performance.

Viola Davis transformed into Michelle Obama through facial gestures and makeup choices in "The First Lady."Showtime

"I am a huge Viola Davis fan. She's a phenomenal actress. However, it deeply saddened me the way she portrayed Michelle Obama. The extreme lip pouting was over exaggerated in every scene," they wrote.

Others defended Davis' performance. One user wrote "Michelle Obama does make this face and talk like this though."

"Looks accurate to me," another person tweeted. "That's what #MichelleObama's face looks like," they added.

The Academy Award-winning actress has voiced more concern over how her inspiration will receive the performance than the audience. She told Vanity Fair that she was "terrified" about Obama's potential reaction.


"There's a lot of fear that I messed up my portrayal of Michelle Obama. She's an icon," Davis said. "Everyone knows what she looks like and what she sounds like, so I am absolutely terrified. But I'm mostly terrified about what she will think."

She added: "I don't want to insult her and have her calling me. I gotta make the sister look good. I just hope that it lands with her."

New episodes of "The First Lady" air Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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