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Award-Winning Actress

Viola Davis: Biography at a Glance

  • Won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences
  • Received Academy Award nominations for her roles in The Help and Doubt
  • The first African American woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama series for her role as 'Annalise DeWitt' on the ABC series How to Get Away With Murder
  • Two-time Tony Award winner for King Hedley II and Fences
  • Named one of TIME magazine's "Most Influential People" in 2012 and 2017
  • From the lectern, she discusses her career and how overcoming adversities and preconceived restrictions have contributed to becoming a stronger woman


Award-Winning Actress

Viola Davis is a critically revered, award-winning actress of film, television, and theater known for her emotionally riveting, groundbreaking roles. She is the first black actress to win a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy Award in addition to being the most Academy Award-nominated black actress in history.

Davis is perhaps best known for her roles in the films "Doubt," "The Help," and "Fences," as well as her leading role on ABC’s hit drama "How to Get Away with Murder."

Davis’ next film will be the upcoming heist thriller "Widows," written and directed by Steve McQueen, which will be distributed by 20th Century Fox in November 2018.

Recently wrapping her fourth season on "How to Get Away with Murder," Davis stars as Annalise Keating in the sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller that centers on ambitious law students and their brilliant and mysterious criminal defense professor. Davis became the first African American to receive the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015, also receiving the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series that year. In 2016, she received her second SAG Award and her second Emmy nomination.

As her credits attest, Davis is in constant demand for a wide variety of roles. She was most recently seen in "Fences" for Paramount Pictures. Davis garnered Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and an Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rose Maxson. Davis also starred with Denzel Washington in the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway. Her performance earned her a Tony Award, as well as the Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and Drama Desk Award. "Fences" was also honored with the Tony Award for Best Play Revival and was the most profitable theater production of the year.

Davis appeared in in the highly anticipated "Suicide Squad" with Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto. The film broke the all-time opening record for August with $135 million. Davis also took the reins as a producer on this film, along with her husband, Julius Tennon, for their company, JuVee Productions. Also in 2015, Davis completed production on "Custody" co-starring Catalina Sandino Moreno and Hayden Panettiere and directed by James Lapine. The film was also produced by JuVee Productions and premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

In 2014, Davis re-teamed with Tate Taylor ("The Help") on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up." The film starred Chadwick Boseman as the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown and chronicled his rise from extreme poverty to becoming one of the most influential musicians in history.

In 2012, Davis received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Aibileen Clark in "The Help." The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel was set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the turbulent 1960s, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Davis won the Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice Best Actress Awards and was also nominated for a Golden Globe and British Academy Film Award. The film won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Acting Ensemble.

In 2008, Davis starred in the critically revered film "Doubt" based on John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award-winning play. Davis shared the screen alongside Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Formed in 2012, Davis and her husband founded a multi-ethnic production company, JuVee Productions, committed to excellence in film, television, and theatre. As their first project, they optioned the rights to Ann Weisgarber’s 2008 book "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree." JuVee Productions’ other projects include the story of Harriet Tubman, a film about Vee-Jay Records, and a Barbara Jordan biopic.

In 2012, Davis also co-starred with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," a post 9/11 story and nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Davis won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female in 2003 for her performance in "Antwone Fisher." Additional film credits include, "Enders Game," "Prisoners," "Beautiful Creatures," "Won't Back Down," "Blackhat," "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," "Knight and Day," "Nights in Rodanthe," "Madea Goes to Jail," "State of Play," "Law Abiding Citizen," "Disturbia," "It’s Kind of a Funny Story," "The Architect," "Get Rich or Die Tryin’," "Far From Heaven," and "Eat, Pray, Love." She worked with director Steven Soderbergh on "Solaris," "Traffic," and Out of Sight," and in "Syriana," which Soderbergh produced for director Stephen Gaghan.

In 2004, Davis starred on the stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Lynn Nottage’s play, "Intimate Apparel." She garnered the highest honors for an off-Broadway play, including Best Actress awards from the Drama Desk, the Drama League, the Obie, and the Audelco Award. Davis was nominated for the Lucille Lortel Award as well.

In 2001, Davis was awarded a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Tonya in "King Hedley II." Davis also received a Drama Desk Award in recognition of her work.

A graduate of The Julliard School, Davis received an Honorary Doctorate during its 109th Commencement Ceremony and she also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from her alma mater, Rhode Island College. 

“Authentic. Honest. Raw. Hands down the most impactful speaker I have ever seen. Viola represents the best of humanity despite coming out of extremely tough circumstances. I was so moved by her story and her delivery kept the entire room captivated. Her message of owning our stories is one that resonates with anyone. Viola gave all of us the gift of some great insights and times to use in our every day lives.”

Watermark Conference for Women Silicon Valley

“Viola was superb yesterday in her luncheon keynote address! Thanks for all of your help with her arrangements. I hope that she had a good time while she was here, because she made a speech worthy of an Academy Award.”

Bryant University

“Everything went fantastic. I hope that Ms. Davis and her family felt welcomed and enjoyed their time in Portland and participating in our event. The impact of her keynote was humbling and inspiring. She left our audience filled with hope and a charge to help change the world. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Concordia University

“Viola really blew us and the entire audience away with her lecture. She really struck a chord with a highly activism-minded student audience, and she was wonderful in a small reception following the event. Everything she said was made even more personal simply by her personal history and experience in this area of Rhode Island. Thank you so much for the work and support you put in through this process, we are so happy that Viola was able to join us at Brown!”

Brown University

“Viola was amazing! I was moved to tears several times during her speech and I think much of the audience was as well. She was very gracious at the reception and we all loved getting to interact with her. I've been walking around campus today and so many students have been chatting to their friends about how incredible she was. One girl in my communications class this morning even brought up parts of Viola's speech in a class discussion on diversity in the media - Viola's words clearly impacted the school and is making everyone think. I'm so glad she was able to come to campus! Thank you so much for helping us make that possible.”

Wake Forest University

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