In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re excited to highlight the incredible accomplishments of a handful of iconic women who changed the face of entertainment. These women, all from different time periods and generations, defied gender, racial, and identity norms to succeed in the face of opposition. They had the guts to put their own careers at risk for what they believed it, and in doing so made history with their boldness!
Last week we paid tribute to comedian and catalyst for social change Ellen DeGeneres, and this week we’re highlighting the first black actress to secure The Triple Crown of Acting, the imitable Viola Davis!
Though her childhood was rough, the arts became an outlet for her early on when she discovered theater through her involvement in the TRIO Upward Bound and Student Support Services programs. She soon attended a performance art high school in her home state of Rhode Island, and followed that with studies at Rhode Island College, and later at the legendary Julliard School in NYC.
Her first love was indeed the stage, but after graduating from Julliard in 1993, she soon found herself working in both film and television as well. In 2008, she rubbed elbows with the illustrious Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, and with only one scene in the whole film she made waves with her heart-breaking performance. Davis also played a memorable recurring character, defense attorney Donna Emmett, in Law & Order: SVU from 2003 through 2008. Going head to head with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on several episodes over the years, only served to heighten Davis’ reputation as a master of her craft.
In 2014, Davis took on the role of a lifetime when she began portraying Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. She spoke with us in 2016 about what it’s been like to take on such a complex and multi-dimensional character—check out our exclusive interview here.
Now let’s talk accolades! Davis is the only African-American to have been nominated for three Academy Awards, and in 2015 she became the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She is also the only black actress to have won the Triple Crown of Acting (Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Awards wins).
But what’s most important about her history-making wins is what she chooses to highlight in her acceptance speeches. She speaks of the power of her artistry to change the way we view the world, and of the importance of opportunities for women of color in the entertainment industry. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said during her 2015 Emmy win speech—her extensive accomplishments are truly proof of that.