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Viola Davis: Our Woman Queen

Everywoman. EGOT. Epitome of Black excellence. It’s tough to pick our fave flick. Plus: the star’s upcoming action thriller.

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Natasha Cunningham
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On-screen, Viola Davis is the epitome of the strong yet vulnerable Black woman. That inspiring persona also carries over into the way we view the melanin-blessed actress in real life. We love that she has embraced her natural beauty and showcased the versatility of natural hair numerous times on the red carpet, including a chic, short, textured Afro, a sleek, curly ponytail, and a daring frohawk; that she became a mother later in life when at age 46 she and her husband adopted their adorable daughter, Genesis, now 12; and that she has been frank about the challenges of menopause.

Armed with the sheer will and determination to find her voice “in a world that didn’t always see me,” Davis has honed and elevated her craft, and commands our attention by playing leading ladies like the fierce female warrior Nanisca in The Woman King and the antihero Annalise Keating in Shonda Rhimes’ hit ABC series How to Get Away With Murder.

Next up, fans will enjoy watching the 57-year-old play NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan, in the drama Air (the film about Nike’s pursuit of the young athlete will be released in theaters on April 5 and stream on Amazon Prime at a later date). Davis’ husband, Julius Tennon, plays Michael Jordan’s father, James Jordan, in the film. And following her somewhat controversial portrayal of Michelle Obama in Showtime’s limited series The First Lady, Davis moves up the White House ranks to play the president of the United States in the upcoming action thriller G20.

In her moving memoir, Finding Me (an Oprah’s Book Club pick), which Davis describes as “a deep reflection, a promise and a love letter of sorts to self,” she opens up about her painful but purposeful path from an impoverished childhood in Rhode Island to rising stardom, first on the Broadway stage. The audiobook narration of her memoir snagged Davis a Grammy Award, making her the third Black woman in history — alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Hudson — to achieve EGOT status (they’ve all won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards).

Let’s take a closer look at Davis’ masterful craft with our five favorite performances — and you know at least one will include her iconic, runny-nose cry.

The Woman King (2022): In this film, inspired by a true story, Davis displays both regal beauty and deadly brawn as the leader of a group of badass female soldiers who guarded the ancient African kingdom of Dahomey.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): Costarring with Chadwick Boseman in his final screen performance, Davis brings brash, shrewd and trailblazing blues woman Ma Rainey to life in this adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed stage play.

Fences (2016): Viola and Denzel — talk about a tour de force. The dynamic duo first tackled the roles of bitter sanitation worker Troy Maxson and his loving but long-suffering wife, Rose, in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play in the 2010 revival on Broadway. For that performance, Davis won a Tony Award (her second), this one for best leading actress. Then in 2016, the Denzel Washington–directed film version garnered her an Oscar for best supporting actress.

How to Get Away With Murder (2014–2020): In 2015, Davis won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her portrayal of flawed law professor and attorney Annalise Keating. The moment we became hooked on this plot-twisting legal drama was when Annalise sat in front of the mirror and took off the glamorous mask that many Black women wear daily — by removing her makeup, lashes and wig.

Doubt (2008): Although Davis made a strong impression in 2002’s Antwone Fisher, she truly captivated us in Doubt, partly because of that ugly cry. As a conflicted mother whose son may have been sexually abused by a priest, she went toe to toe with Meryl Streep and made every scene-stealing second of her small but compelling part count. The Academy acknowledged her brilliance with a best supporting actress nomination.

Honorable mentions: Watch Davis and Jennifer Lopez in 2015’s Fight Club–reminiscent thriller Lila & Eve (2015), and see if you can guess the surprise ending. And The Help (2011) is enriched by the sisterhood, humor and dignity that Davis and Octavia Spencer brought to their respective roles as housekeepers living and working in Mississippi in the 1960s.

Follow Article Topics: Culture-&-Style