Tony & Emmy award-winning actress and community activist
Award-winning actress and community activist, Viola Davis has conquered every medium - from stage to television to film - and continues to break every barrier put before her.
Born at her grandparents’ house on the Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, South Carolina, Davis and her family relocated to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where they were the first black family. Growing up in extreme poverty and racism, Davis fell in love with theater early in high school as a form of escape; however, her passion and growing acting abilities were quickly recognized and earned her a full scholarship to the Young People’s School for the Performing Arts at age 15. Davis often credits the support she received from the college preparation program Upward Bound and the staff who went beyond the call of duty for giving her the courage to chase her dreams. Davis went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in theater from Rhode Island College and In 1993 graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School.
Following her graduation from Juilliard, Davis began her career on the stage and quickly transitioned to film and television. Throughout her career, she has continued to be recognized for her work and talent. Davis has won nearly 50 awards, including an Obie Award in 1999 for her performance in “Everybody's Ruby,” and two Tony Awards for her work in “King Hedley II” and “Fences.” Her performances in films like “Doubt” and “The Help” earned Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, respectively, as well as nominations for Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA Awards. Her other notable films include "Far from Heaven," "Antwone Fisher," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," and the forthcoming "Suicide Squad."
In 2014 Davis began starring as defense attorney and law professor Annalise Keating on the ABC drama “How to Get Away with Murder.” She has received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a role that not only challenges stereotypes about black women by simultaneously displaying vulnerability and strength but is ground breaking in its depiction of Keating as sexualized. In 2015 Davis made history when she became the first African American woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Davis’ activism is deeply rooted in her personal experiences. She is dedicated to ensuring that “women of color are part of the narrative” on all artistic platforms and has said, “I want to do what Cicely Tyson did to me… she allowed me to have the visual of what it means to dream.” She and her husband, actor Julius Tennon, started a production company to create more work for black actresses, who are “grossly underrepresented,” and she uses her stature to bring attention to the limited roles available for people of color. Equally passionate about community involvement, Davis encourages other to "Live a life bigger than yourself." She serves as the ambassador for “Hunger Is,” a joint charitable initiative of The Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) to fight childhood hunger in America. Rising out of “the absolute epitome of poverty,” Davis is driven to bring awareness of and solutions for our nation's "17 million kids who worry where their next meal will come from." It is this level of purpose and commitment that TIME magazine recognized when they named Davis as one of the “Most Influential People of 2012.”
This biography contains materials from the Keppler Speakers biography, USA Today, Variety, Huffington Post, Wikipedia, Hunger Is, and Rhode Island College.