Viola Davis is a storyteller whose own personal tale of achievement and struggle for equality is in many ways just as compelling as the characters’ she inhabits onscreen.
The acclaimed actress, producer and civil rights activist boasts a CV overflowing with excellence in her craft and achievements both inside and outside of Hollywood, as she’s glided from theater to film to television to social justice work. She always does it with gravitas and always while pushing women and women of color to the forefront of the discourse as her star has risen.
She has used her platform to bring awareness to issues surrounding poverty — something she experienced as a child — and racial and gender inequity. She has contributed to various philanthropic endeavors from Safeway Foundation, Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry, and WhyHunger. The issues she tackles in real life are also themes often threaded through her body of work.
To celebrate her one-of-a-kind career — as a creative visionary, as a feminist, and as a torch-bearer for the civil rights movement — we have put together a timeline of some of the highlights from Viola Davis’ life, from Ruby McCollum to Professor Keating.
1967: Davis — then only 2 years old — is arrested with her mother, Mary Alice, during a civil rights protest
1993: Davis graduates from the prestigious Juilliard School, following a period of intensive theater training at Rhode Island College and in high school. Soon after she starts working in theater and landing TV roles
1999: The emerging actress — also working in television and television movies at this point in her career — starts to hit a stride as she receives the off-Broadway Obie Award for her portrayal of Ruby McCollum in Everybody's Ruby
2001: She earns the Tony Award for best featured actress in a play for her performance in August Wilson's King Hedley II
2008: Davis’ role as Mrs. Miller in Doubt earns her Oscar and Golden Globe nods, even though she’s only in the movie for one scene. It’s that good
2010: She returns to the stage and wins another Tony for her role in Fences…
2011: … and then takes another classic big screen role with The Help, which wins her the SAG Award for best actress and an Oscar nomination for the same
2011: In the same year, Davis launches JuVee productions with her husband, Julius Tennon, which becomes a big part of her impact since Juvee recently inked a first look feature deal with Amazon
2012: Davis is presented with Women in Film's Crystal Award
2014: ABC’s thriller How to Get Away with Murder premieres to immediate critical acclaim
2015: For her starring role in Murder, Davis becomes the first black woman to receive the Primetime Emmy for lead actress in a drama
2017: Davis receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She then wins an Oscar for her work in Fences, reprising a role she had brought to Broadway in the 2010 revival, leaving her only one award away from EGOT status. She’s also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time
2018: Davis earns yet another nomination — this time another Primetime Emmy — for her breakout performance in the How to Get Away With Murder x Scandal crossover episode