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Viola Davis: First Black Woman to Win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony

Viola Davis made history at the Academy Awards when she became the first black woman to win an Oscar, and Emmy, and a Tony for acting.

Viola Davis with the award for Best Supporting Actress for Fences in the press room at the 89th Academy Awards held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday February 26, 2017. See PA story SHOWBIZ Oscars. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire

On Sunday, February 26th, Viola Davis joined an elite club of performers – the triple crown actors. She is one of twenty-three actors to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for her acting. Although this is a feat impressive in and of itself (as even Meryl Streep has yet to join), Davis has taken it a step further by being the first black woman to do so.

In 2015, Davis took home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder. The ABC show follows the involvement of a group of law students and their criminal defense professor in a murder plot.

Viola Davis poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Viola Davis poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

She is also the recipient of not one, but two Tony awards. The first came in 2001 when she played Tonya in the original play “King Hedley II,” for which she was awarded Best Featured Actress in a Play. Later, in 2010, Davis received Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Rose Maxson in the Broadway version of “Fences.”

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington attend the 64th Annual Tony Awards at The Sports Club/LA on June 13, 2010 in New York City.
Viola Davis and Denzel Washington attend the 64th Annual Tony Awards at The Sports Club/LA on June 13, 2010 in New York City.

It was her reprisal of this role in the film version of Fences (2016) this year that was her entry ticket into the triple crown club. Davis’ emotional role as the wife of failed baseball player Troy Maxson is just one of her many claims to fame, and it was her perfectly executed monologues in this movie that landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

In addition to receiving this high honor, Viola Davis also stole the show with her impassioned speech that not even the Oscars orchestra dared to interrupt. Her speech began with a celebration of people who do not have the opportunity to be recognized for their talents or efforts, like she was last night:

Thank you to the Academy. You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

She continued on to thank “Fences” playwright August Wilson, and fellow actors Michael T. Williamson and Stephen McKinley Henderson, among others. Her speech also contained an emotional tribute to her costar, as held back tears while exclaiming, “And oh captain, my captain, Denzel Washington,” at the end of her list of ‘thank you’s.

The full version of her speech is available below:

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