With her critically acclaimed performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Viola Davis is primed to become the most nominated Black actress in Oscars history. Though Davis’ name (and her rousing acceptance speeches) has become synonymous with the very notion of awards season, the celebrated actor is quick to point out the reality that this record is one that should’ve been set long ago.
“For me, it’s a reflection of the lack of opportunities and access to opportunities people of color have had in this business,” she says. “If me, going back to the Oscars four times in 2021, makes me the most nominated Black actress in history, that’s a testament to the sheer lack of material there has been out there for artists of color.”
Davis currently shares the record for the most nominated Black actress in the history of the Academy Awards, tied with close friend Octavia Spencer with three nods apiece. Both women have a supporting actress trophy at home (Davis won in 2017 for “Fences,” while Spencer won in 2012 for “The Help”).
The only other Black actress with multiple Oscar nods is Whoopi Goldberg, who has been recognized twice, nominated for best actress in 1986 for “The Color Purple” and winning the best supporting actress prize in 1991 for “Ghost.” The late Cicely Tyson earned an Oscar nod in 1972 for “Sounder” and an honorary Oscar in 2018.
Of the awards season maelstrom, Davis says, “I have to make it mean something. I do. If I just saw it as a moment for me to sort of puff up my own ego, I think that that would last for 10 seconds or less. It’s a platform. It’s another microphone. It’s another opportunity to open my mouth and speak a really fundamental truth about Hollywood and this business, and, really, America.”
Of course, this year’s ceremonies will inevitably be different, as they unfold amid the ongoing pandemic. There are logistical questions about what sort of hybrid virtual and in person broadcasts might take shape, but Davis is hopeful that the award season landscape will change in a more significant way.
“It’s always great to have the escapism of friendly competition, but at the end of the day, there are a lot deeper issues going on than whether we’re going to have the Oscars, or the Golden Globes, or the SAG Awards in person or virtually,” she says. “My fantasy is that people, that artists, understand that there is no separation with what we do, and what’s going on in the world. I’m actually really excited to see how that takes shape — how people speak their truths, even in their acceptance speeches, how they deal with getting golden statues and what they do with their power now.”
In evaluating the awards season, Davis points out that there’s a larger picture at play when it comes to who gets nominated for what.
“Am I grateful that I absolutely have gotten to that point in my life after everything that I’ve been through, and my path, my journey? I’m very grateful for that, extraordinarily so. But I just can’t express enough how important it is to lead a life of vision and purpose,” Davis says. “The conversation that no one is having, the sort of cognitive discussions that people are not having is the process to getting there — the tools and the access that was given to these artists, in order to get to a place where their work can be seen.”
She explains: “When you start having those conversations, you see what a huge deficit and huge discrepancy is still out there for artists of color, which is why a lot of times we don’t have a seat at the table. It’s not because we don’t have the talent, it’s not because we’re not working hard. It’s because of fundamental truths that we are not given the same permission, tools and everything that we need to even start on the same level, or to be on the same playing field.”
“There are a lot of white actresses out there, who are fairly young — in their 20s or 30s, who have been to the Academy Awards just as many times as me or more than me,” the 55-year-old star continues. “It is a reflection of their talent — but it’s also a reflection of their opportunities. That’s what it is. It’s a reflection of how they had the chance — those three, four or five roles that were so good that brought them to that place. [Being a Black actress] is like having a fabulous body, but not having the right clothes to show it off.”
In evaluating the number of nominations for contemporary actresses, for comparison’s sake — in 2016, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence set a record as the youngest person to earn four nominations at age 25. In 2020, Saoirse Ronan became the second-youngest to earn four nods; she was also 25, but a few months older than Lawrence was at the time of her fourth nomination. Oscar-winner Kate Winslet (who currently has seven nods) was the youngest actress to reach five nominations; she was 31 when she was recognized for 2006’s “Little Children.”
Oscar winners Jodie Foster, Renee Zellweger, Holly Hunter, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren have also earned four nominations each, as have perennial nominees Annette Bening and Michelle Williams. Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, and Jane Fonda all have seven nods, while Glenn Close could pull ahead of her contemporaries with an eighth nomination for “Hillbilly Elegy.” The most nominated actress in the history of the Academy Awards is (Davis’ friend and “Doubt” co-star) Meryl Streep, with a seemingly unmatchable 21 total nods.
In terms of finding solutions to Hollywood’s disparities, Davis has taken the reins into her own hands when it comes to her career. Davis formed her JuVee Productions banner, with husband Julius Tennon in 2011, to create more opportunities for herself and other creators of color to tell more authentic and progressive stories and to challenge the status quo when it comes to representation of Black people onscreen.
But as far as reforming the system at large, Davis offers this: “Two things need to happen. People who are on the periphery need to not be so frightened that they’re going to lose the opportunity, that they don’t open their mouth and speak their truth. And the people who are in a position of power need to listen and to have the bravery and the courage to step out of their comfort zone and make those changes.”
Two outtakes from the cover shoot for Variety’s newest issue.
Viola is featured on the cover of the new issue of Variety magazine along with politician Stacey Abrams. It is a beautiful and insightful interview and I think you will enjoy it!
Viola Davis and Stacey Abrams know how to harness their power.
These bold, towering figures may come from vastly different professional backgrounds, but the outspoken women share much in common, not the least of which is giving voice to pertinent issues in their respective fields and attaining success in their careers against all odds.
Their primary connection, however, lies within their core principles. They are both Black women who have worked their way from poverty to pop culture prominence and then used their spheres of influence to create opportunities and make space for other Black women to follow.
As the intersection between entertainment and politics continues to meld, their mutual success has landed Davis and Abrams smack in the middle of Hollywood’s film awards conversation. Davis, one of the industry’s most celebrated actors, is being lauded for her performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and is considered a lead contender in this year’s Oscar race; Abrams produced the award-winning documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” which was just shortlisted for an Academy Award, contending as a documentary feature.
Davis’ name has become synonymous with awards season, as evidenced by her mantelpiece, which boasts an Oscar, two Tonys, three Drama Desk Awards and an Emmy for her work on screen and stage. Her rousing remarks when accepting the supporting actress Oscar in 2017 for “Fences” underscore her unabashed honesty about the business she works in: “People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, ‘Exhume those bodies, exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams come to fruition.’”
Regarding the awards season maelstrom, Davis says, “It’s a platform. It’s another microphone. It’s another opportunity to open my mouth and speak a really fundamental truth about Hollywood and this business and, really, America.”
Abrams is a game changer, credited with helping to turn her home state of Georgia blue in the 2020 presidential election, which was a major factor in Donald Trump losing the White House to Joe Biden, and earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Her “All In” documentary, which she produced with filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, recounts Abrams’ own election story — losing the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race to Republican Brian Kemp, with fewer than 55,000 votes standing between the candidates amid claims of extensive voter suppression. The film also traces the history of voting rights in America and the nefarious maneuvers that have been deployed to deprive people of that right.
As she navigates her freshman awards season with “All In,” Abrams says: “It’s an extraordinary thing to know that the intent of the film has been recognized. The goal was to provide Americans with the tools they needed to identify and mitigate voter suppression and that constant attack on their citizenship.”
Davis’ and Abrams’ respect for one another was on full display in an exclusive conversation for Variety’s cover story and video shoot. As political leader Abrams transitions from election season to awards season, Davis wholeheartedly welcomes her into the fold.
When asked what it means to have her name associated with Abrams’, Davis says, “It’s a reflection and a confirmation that I’m living my life on a higher level than what I do [as an actor].
“I’ve always wanted to lead a life of significance. I’ve always wanted to leave breadcrumbs — like my mentor, Miss Cicely Tyson, did for me — and leave the world a little shifted by my presence. Not everyone can be a Martin Luther King Jr., but they can be who they are and make a difference in the life of someone.
That’s what Stacey Abrams means to me. My God, she shifted the whole election; she shifted the whole state of Georgia.”
Congratulations to Viola on her three individual nominations including Entertainer of the Year and congrats to the entire cast and crew of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on their multiple nominations.
Entertainer of the Year
Outstanding Motion Picture
Bad Boys For Life (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
One Night In Miami… (Amazon Studios)
Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
Soul (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
The Banker (Apple)
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Issa Rae – The Photograph (Universal Pictures)
Janelle Monáe – Antebellum (Lionsgate)
Madalen Mills – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)
Tracee Ellis Ross – The High Note (Focus Features)
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (FOX)
Brandee Evans – P-Valley (Starz)
Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Simone Missick – All Rise (CBS)
Viola Davis – How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Outstanding Soundtrack/Compilation Album
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Music from the Netflix Film) – Branford Marsalis (Milan)
Insecure: Music from the HBO Original Series – Various Artists (Atlantic Records)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey – Various Artists (Atlantic Records )
Soul Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste and Tom MacDougall (Walt Disney Records)
The First Ladies of Gospel: The Clark Sisters Biopic Soundtrack – Donald Lawrence (Relevé Entertainment)
Congratulations to the Viola and the cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom SAG Nominations!
The SAG Awards will be simulcast on Sunday, April 4, 2021 on TNT and TBS at 9 p.m. (ET) / 6 p.m. (PT)
LOS ANGELES (February 4, 2021) – Nominees for the 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards honoring outstanding individual, cast and ensemble performances for the past year* were announced this morning by Lily Collins (Emily in Paris, MANK) and Daveed Diggs (Snowpiercer, BLINDSPOTTING, The Good Lord Bird) via Instagram Live. The nominees for outstanding action performances by film and television stunt ensembles were announced this morning by Jason George (Station 19) and Elizabeth McLaughlin (Grand Hotel) who were introduced by SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. The 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be simulcast on TNT and TBS on Sunday, April 4, 2021, at 9 p.m. (ET) / 6 p.m. (PT). An encore will air on TNT at 11 p.m. (ET) / 8 p.m. (PT).
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
AMY ADAMS / Bev – “HILLBILLY ELEGY”
VIOLA DAVIS / Ma Rainey – “MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM”
VANESSA KIRBY / Martha – “PIECES OF A WOMAN”
FRANCES McDORMAND / Fern – “NOMADLAND”
CAREY MULLIGAN / Cassandra – “PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN”
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
DA 5 BLOODS
CHADWICK BOSEMAN / Stormin’ Norman
PAUL WALTER HAUSER / Simon
NGUYEN NGOC LAM / Quan
LE Y LAN / Tien Luu
NORM LEWIS / Eddie
DELROY LINDO / Paul
JONATHAN MAJORS / David
VAN VERONICA NGO / Hanoi Hannah
JOHNNY TRI NGUYEN / Vinh Tran
JASPER PAAKKONEN / Seppo
CLARKE PETERS / Otis
SANDY HUONG PHAM / Michon
JEAN RENO / Desroche
MELANIE THIERRY / Hedy
ISIAH WHITLOCK JR. / Melvin
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
CHADWICK BOSEMAN / Levee
JONNY COYNE / Sturdyvant
VIOLA DAVIS / Ma Rainey
COLMAN DOMINGO / Cutler
MICHAEL POTTS / Slow Drag
GLYNN TURMAN / Toledo
NOEL KATE CHO / Anne
YERI HAN / Monica
SCOTT HAZE / Billy
ALAN KIM / David
WILL PATTON / Paul
STEVEN YEUN / Jacob
YUH-JUNG YOUN / Soonja
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…
KINGSLEY BEN-ADIR / Malcolm X
BEAU BRIDGES / Mr. Carlton
LAWRENCE GILLIARD JR. / Drew “Bundini” Brown
ELI GOREE / Cassius Clay
ALDIS HODGE / Jim Brown
MICHAEL IMPERIOLI / Angelo Dundee
JOAQUINA KALUKANGO / Betty X
LESLIE ODOM JR. / Sam Cooke
LANCE REDDICK / Kareem X
NICOLETTE ROBINSON / Barbara Cooke
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II / Bobby Seale
SACHA BARON COHEN / Abbie Hoffman
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT / Richard Schultz
KELVIN HARRISON JR. / Fred Hampton
MICHAEL KEATON / Ramsey Clark
FRANK LANGELLA / Judge Julius Hoffman
JOHN CARROLL LYNCH / David Dellinger
EDDIE REDMAYNE / Tom Hayden
MARK RYLANCE / William Kunstler
ALEX SHARP / Rennie Davis
JEREMY STRONG / Jerry Rubin
Congratulations to Viola on her Golden Globe nomination for her role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
I have added captures of Viola’s performance from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to our gallery.
Tonight is the Gotham Awards and Viola will receive the Actress Tribute.
Like all awards shows, the Gotham Awards adjusted the logistics of the ceremony due to the pandemic. Even though it will be presented from its long-time home at the Cipriani, the ceremony will be hostless and will not have in-person attendance. Instead, audience members will be at virtual tables and be able to partake in the event through a digital lens.
This year, Kelly Reichardt’s A24 period drama First Cow leads with four nominations including Best Feature, Best Screenplay as well as Best Actor for John Magaro and Best Breakthrough Actor for Orion Lee.
In addition, the Gotham Awards will honor the late Chadwick Boseman with a posthumous Actor Tribute and Viola Davis with an Actress Tribute. Steve McQueen will receive a Director’s Tribute while Ryan Murphy is set to be honored with an Industry Tribute. The Gotham Awards will also introduce the inaugural Ensemble Tribute which will be given to the cast of Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Read the full list of nominations and winners below.
Thank you Deadline for the article.
The New York Times talked to the cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom about their film and working with the late Chadwick Boseman on his final performance.
Members of the creative team discuss what it took to adapt the August Wilson play for Netflix and trying not to be “outdone” by the late actor.
A nation riven by racial violence, an industry with a history of exploiting Black culture, white executives eager to portray themselves as allies, and Black artists at the center of it all, contending with a system that would toast them with one arm and pick their pockets with the other.
The story of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play about Black pride, white power and the blues in 1927 Chicago, is as incendiary today as the day it was written. A new feature film adaptation, due on Netflix Dec. 18, revives Wilson’s historical narrative in a contemporary moment when so much and so little has changed.
The second entry in his 10-play American Century Cycle, chronicling the Black experience in each decade of the 20th century, “Rainey” won three Tonys for its original run on Broadway. The film adaptation is already an awards contender for next year, thanks to a searing lead performance from Viola Davis and a powerful showing by Chadwick Boseman, in his final film role before his death from cancer in August.
Davis plays Ma, an indomitable performer based on the real-life “Mother of the Blues,” whose unprecedented superstardom has taken her from tent shows in Barnesville, Ga., to a recording session in Chicago. The white men overseeing the session, visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads, fear and respect Ma like everyone else in her gravity-bending orbit, including her girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and quartet of seasoned backing musicians: Levee (Boseman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts). But when Levee’s own career ambitions put him at odds with the group, its fragile infrastructure threatens to implode.
The Tony winner George C. Wolfe (“Angels in America”) directed the film from a script adapted by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. In a recent round-table conversation, conducted via video chat, Wolfe, Davis, Domingo, Turman and Potts discussed working with Boseman, Rainey’s potent legacy and asserting your worth in a world built on your devaluation. These are edited (and spoiler-free) excerpts from our conversation.
The movie is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, who delivers an unforgettable performance as Levee. What are some of your memories of working with him? What did he bring to the performance that you saw as his collaborators that we might not know about as viewers?
GEORGE C. WOLFE I remember one time, when the band was just sitting around during rehearsal, he started to launch into one of his final monologues. It had all been very casual. And then, at a certain point, it wasn’t casual — it was a fully invested moment that was full of energy and intensity and truth. I just remember thinking, “Oh, we’re going there?” And he went there. We were all sort of half the characters and half who we were, and then, in that moment, the half that was the character took over. And it was kind of glorious.
GLYNN TURMAN I loved the way he always had his cornet nearby. He was always doing something with it, becoming familiar with it, discovering how a musician and his instrument become one. Anytime he picked it up, it was in the right position. Anytime he set it down, it was in the right position. Anytime he put it to his mouth, it was in the right position. He became a musician. It was wonderful to watch that. We all kind of took that cue not to be outdone, as actors do. [Laughter]
COLMAN DOMINGO That’s the truth.
WOLFE Who, this group? I’m confused. [Laughter]
I wonder, when you look at his performance now or when you watch the film, does it play differently at all for any of you in light of his passing? Has its meaning changed for you in any way?
DOMINGO Absolutely. I watched it the other night and I heard Chad’s language in a different way. You see his strength and his humor. It brought tears to my eyes very early on, knowing what I know now. And knowing we were all very well able-bodied people and we were doing this tremendous work, showing up and wrestling with August’s language. This man had another massive struggle on top of that. I don’t know how he did it. I sat with myself for a good 15 minutes after watching it and I had a little cry, especially when I saw the dedication. It truly struck me that he’s not with us. I knew he wasn’t, but to see that written, it kind of decimated me.
VIOLA DAVIS There was a transcendence about Chad’s performance, but there needed to be. This is a man who’s raging at God, who’s lost even his faith. So [Boseman has] got to sort of go to the edge of hope and death and life in order to make that character work. Of course, you look back on it and see that that’s where he was.
I always say, a carpenter or anyone else that does work, they need certain tools in order to create. Our tool is us. We’ve got to use us. There’s no way to just sort of bind whatever you’re going through and leave it in your hotel. You’ve got to bring that with you, and you need permission to do that. And he went there, he really did.
Netflix has released a feature on Viola’s performance of Ma Rainey.
Viola Davis and the Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom cast Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman, director George C. Wolfe and producer Denzel Washington, break down what it was like to see her become the “Mother of the Blues” in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.