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Viola Davis

2017 Speaker

VIOLA DAVIS is a critically revered, award-winning actress of film, television and theater known for her intriguing and 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. For her recent role in Fences, Davis garnered Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and an Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress. Davis also starred with Denzel Washington in the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway. Fences was honored with the Tony Award for Best Play Revival and was the most profitable theater production of the year.

She is the first African American woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Annalise Keating in Shonda Rhimes’ ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder. Her role also earned her two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an NAACP Image Award and two Golden Globe nominations. In The Help, Davis captivated audiences and critics alike with her portrayal of Aibileen Clark. She earned a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Critics’ Choice Award, and was also nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and British Academy Film Award. Other notable film roles include Blackhat, Get On Up, Prisoner, Beautiful Creatures, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Eat Pray Love.

Rising out of “the absolute epitome of poverty,” Davis fell in love with theater early in high school as a form of escape. Her passion and growing abilities for acting would pay off with a full scholarship to the Young People’s School of the Performing Arts before attending the prestigious Julliard School for four years. In 1996, Davis hit the acting trifecta by earning roles on Broadway in Seven Guitars, as well as in TV on NYPD Blue and in film on The Substance of Fire. Equally passionate is her dedication to ensure that “women of color are part of the narrative,” on all artistic platforms. On raising the profiles and stories of young women of color, Davis says, “I want to do what Cicely Tyson did to me… she allowed me to have the visual of what it means to dream.” It’s this type of ideology and commitment that TIME saw when they named Davis as one of the “Most Influential People of 2012.” She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. @violadavis