This Oscar-nominated, Tony Award-winning actress received rave reviews for her performance as wife Rose in the 2010 revival of August Wilson’s play, Fences. Davis’ own humble beginnings dealing with racism in her Rhode Island hometown laid the groundwork for her role, where she lent quiet depth to Wilson’s examinations of racial relations in 1950s Pittsburgh opposite Denzel Washington, who was also her co-star and director in acclaimed 2002 film Antwone Fisher.


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(Reporting by Jeff Johnson, Produced by Gene Choo and Morgan Whitaker)

Viola Davis is making history … by bringing strong female characters to life. From a nearly all-white town in Rhode Island, Davis was resilient about her pursuit of acting. When a college professor asked all the want-to-be actors in her class to raise their hands, while listing the trade’s shortcomings — poverty, scarcity of work and health insurance — Davis was the only determined co-ed to keep her hand raised high.

The actress’ first break came with her Broadway debut in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and later work with playwright Wilson led to Davis’s first Tony for King Hedley II and a second with Fences. Davis has also acted in television and film, with her performance in 2009’s Doubt earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination – despite only appearing for 10 minutes.

What’s next for Viola?

With the celebrated run of Fences and 2010 film releases including Eat Pray Love, the actress will next appear in The Help, a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name about an unlikely friendship between three women in 1960s Mississippi. Davis is also said to be the top pick for the role of Shirley Chisholm, the Brooklyn Congresswoman and first major party black candidate for president, in the movie project about Chisholm’s life.

In the future, Davis also looks forward to creating a production company of her own to support other African-American actors.

What inspires Viola?

“The people who have always, always inspired me are people who did not have it easy. I am inspired and attracted to people who have lived lives where there was no human explanation of their survival — and — not only do they survive, but they thrive with love and compassion,” Davis told theGrio. “I just did a movie in Greenwood, Mississippi. I was inspired by the stories of black people there. They were horrific stories of brutality during the Jim Crow days and yet, here they are, believing, thriving, still retaining their faith, encouraging their children to move forward with hope. It’s the best.”

On black history …

“Harriet Tubman, Medger Evers, (James) Chaney, (Martin Luther) King, they all used their time well. Now, it’s my time. So how do I pass the baton?” Davis told theGrio. “How do I stand in the gap? I celebrate by not apologizing for my success, my hue, (by) investing in my marriage, breaking the generational curse of poverty and dysfunction in my family, (and by) inviting young people into my home to talk, inspire.”

A little-known fact …

The first African-American actress to win a Tony Award was Juanita Hill in 1950, for her supporting role as Bloody Mary in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific.

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