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Viola Davis

Source: Art Streiber / Art Streiber

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Award-winning Actress Classically trained, award-winning actor, Viola Davis has conquered every medium from stage to television to film. From her Tony Award winning performances in King Hedley II and Fences to her Academy Award nominated performances in The Help and Doubt, Viola has burst through every barrier to become one of the most accomplished and celebrated actors today. She most recently became the first African American woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role as ‘Annalise DeWitt’ in Shonda Rhimes’s ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder. Her role earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Golden Globe nomination.

In The Help, Davis captivated audiences and critics alike with her portrayal of ‘Aibileen Clark.’ Set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960’s, the film chronicles the relationship between three different and extraordinary women who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. Davis 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,” Viola 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, Viola hit the acting trifecta by earning roles on Broadway (Seven Guitars), TV (NYPD Blue), and film (The Substance of Fire). Equally passionate is Viola’s 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, Viola 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 Viola as one of the “Most Influential People of 2012.” From the lectern, Davis discusses her career and how overcoming adversities and preconceived restrictions have all contributed to reinforcing her abilities as an artist and becoming a stronger woman.

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