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Viola Davis, EGOT Pioneer

Viola Davis is an EGOT pioneer and trailblazer advocating for diversity and opportunity in Hollywood. See the legendary actresses' rise to critical acclaim.

We stan a QUEEN!!!

Viola Davis earned the legendary Holy Grail of the entertainment industry, EGOT status, on Sunday, February 5, 2023.

“It has just been such a journey. . .I just EGOT!” Davis says in her acceptance speech. Her fans (including me) have been celebrating all over social media.

Indeed, Viola Davis has had an incredible journey replete with wins (and obstacles to overcome). She started in the 1990s with Broadway productions like August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. She continued building her career with off-Broadway productions and television appearances on shows like NYPD Blue and New York Undercover. She also had smaller roles in films like the military comedy, The Pentagon Wars on HBO alongside Kelsey Grammer of Frasier and Cheers fame. She continued appearing in films and TV shows through the 2000s like Antwone Fisher, Ocean’s Eleven, Far From Heaven, and Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit. She also continued her acclaimed Broadway career, working with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. The 2010s saw her profile rise to superstardom with major roles in The Help, Get on Up, Lila & Eve, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Suicide SquadViola Davis’ success has continued into today with producing credits and Box Office success with The Woman King and her bestselling memoirShe is even nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at this year’s BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).

EGOT Journey


Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

In 2015, Davis also won an Emmy for her turn as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder. Annalise could initially be mistaken for the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope that many Black women have grown tired of being represented as. This trope means well: portraying Black women as strong in the face of overwhelming odds and (often violent) adversity, but with the unintended effect of portraying them as superhumans capable of withstanding anything without the need of protection, support, or grace.

Viola Davis infuses Annalise with strength that is highlighted by vulnerability. Annalise is cunning and caring. She is bold and considerate. She is nurturing, yet sets healthy boundaries with people looking to her for free emotional labor. Annalise’s vulnerability is symbolic of how she “unmasks” herself in the show, admitting to wearing wigs, makeup, heels, a legal career as a lawyer, and a last name (Keating), to be the acceptable version of a Black woman. Even her birth name, Anna Mae, who many fans will associate with the Tina Turner story of abuse, survival, and triumph in one’s twilight years, was changed to Annalise. All in order to survive a capitalist system with baked in anti-Blackness and misogynoir. She unmasks literally by showing viewers her natural hair without a wig or stretching her shrinkage. This message resonates with many people of African descent who, like Annalise, may struggle to accept their natural hair and features in a matrix that pumps anti-Blackness into every daydream. Annalise is complex, three-dimensional, and engaging. We don’t always love everything she does, but we are always rooting for her, supporting her, and interested to see what she does next.

Check out the scene below.


Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling Recording

With her Grammy Award for the audiobook version of her autobiography, Finding Me, Viola Davis earned the legendary distinction of EGOT status on Sunday, February 5, 2023. This is the Holy Grail of the entertainment industry. Her memoir is a fascinating read (and listening experience), where Viola Davis candidly discusses the anti-Blackness, colorism, and misogynoir that Black women face in the entertainment industry and wider world. The memoir manages to highlight these systemic issues while also giving readers insight into how Davis navigates them and finds an enveloping joy shield to protect her well-being.

It is a must-read.

Book cover for Viola Davis' Finding Me


Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis won her first Oscar for the film version of Fences. The film was an adaptation of the critically acclaimed Broadway play of the same name. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington reprised their roles from Broadway onto the Silver Screen, giving career-defining performances. Davis was described as an emotional powerhouse who often promoted herself beyond supporting actress with her scene stealing performances of the struggles of Black mothers, wives, and women everywhere.

The story focuses on Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), but the oppositional gaze of Black women’s spectatorship in Viola Davis’ Rose Maxson is a force that has to be reckoned with amongst viewers. Rose is the epitome of ‘struggle love,’ a term many Black women scholars, feminists, and womanists used to describe the expectation that Black women (similar to all women, but exacerbated because of intersectionality and anti-Blackness) struggle in emotionally tolling and unfulfilling relationships with broken men struggling against systemic injustice. The Romeo & Juliet veneer of such a cinematic story, the idea being that struggling with your man will bring you into a land of milk and honey on the other side, quickly wears off as Rose often finds herself and others as the target of a Black man’s frustrations with the system. Troy is a grand man who was denied greatness in a small-minded world. His bitterness is toward the system, he was literally denied Major League Baseball fame because of racism and segregation, but his actions hurt Rose and his children. He is having an affair, he is constantly emotionally distant and cold to Rose and his son. He denies his son’s dreams, and even father’s an illegitimate child despite the incredible financial strain the family is under.

From an intersectional lens, Rose’s (Viola Davis) frustration lies within the fact that Troy seems to only believe he’s been “standing in place.” He does not seem to consider that Rose has had her dreams, aspirations, and life choices dashed by the same system, and a few of its cousins to boot! Like many Black men specifically, Troy cannot see how misogynoir, the unique intersection of colorism, racism, and sexism that Black women face, attempts to keep them standing in an ever further spot behind even them [Black men]. Many moviegoers resonated with Rose, feeling like the intersectionality of Black women was properly displayed. Bonus points for her kicking his cheating behind to the curb!

Below, she reminds Troy that she’s been standing the same spot as him.


Best Leading Actress in a Play

In 2001, Davis had a career breakthrough, earning a Tony Award for her role in August Wilson’s King Hedley II on Broadway. Throughout her acclaimed Broadway career, she has worked with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, as well as starring alongside Denzel Washington for her third August Wilson Broadway production, Fences. Both Broadway stints were met with critical acclaim from high-level critics like Roger Ebert and theatre critic, Ben Brantley. She also won her 2nd Tony Award for her turn in Fences. She was the second African-American to win the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.

Tonya (Viola Davis), King Hedley II’s wife, grapples alongside her wishful husband as he tries to save a large sum of money in 1985 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The story explores the trickle-down economics touted during the Reagan Administration (and still a myth today), and whether they had any positive effect on Black Americans. Below, Davis recreates a scene with her co-star at the Tony Awards.


Where’s the Beef?

Viola Davis is accomplished, acclaimed, lauded, and has an enviable career that rivals the best of Hollywood. So, why is she not paid in reflection of her tremendous accomplishments? Why is she not paid the same as her contemporaries, like colleague and close friend, Meryl Streep? This is not to take away from the blessed career of Viola Davis, or to minimize her accomplishments and financial blessings. She herself has spoken extensively about being underpaid and underappreciated with journalist Tina Brown at the Women in the World Salon event in 2020. Viola Davis points out that while women in the industry get paid significantly less than men, it is also true that Black actors are paid less than white actors. This places Black actresses at an even more disadvantaged intersection. The recent controversy surrounding her Oscar snub for The Woman King only underscores the underappreciation Davis points out. Her larger point about the underappreciation of Black actors and films is underscored by the additional Oscar snubbing of Nope and Till.

This snub is likely due to pseudo-intellectualism and misogynoir. Any other time, war films are given a prestige and smooth Oscar promotion. This film has been the subject of intense scrutiny by anti-Black women factions from the typical colorism and misogynoir of Black men and others, who hide their contempt behind pseudo-intellectual arguments about historical accuracy and “glorification of slave traders.” Yet, the role of the Dahomey in the Atlantic Slave Trade is not glossed over in The Woman King. Nanisca (Viola Davis) challenges King Ghezo (John Boyega) to stop allowing his people and other Africans to have any involvement in the slave trade. The climax of the film sees the Agojie freeing Africans who were about to be shipped to the New World.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a professor, film producer, journalist, and cultural critic, in “Opinion: What the calls to boycott ‘The Woman King’ are really saying,” questions these pseudo intellectuals’ true motives. She posits “[i]sn’t it interesting that some of those calling most loudly for the boycott are Black men? Where were similar calls about films like “12 Years a Slave,” “Django Unchained” or “The Good Lord Bird”—films about the slave trade given copious creative license in their portrayal of characters, storylines and the institution of slavery itself?”

I’ll answer Dr. Burton here. The issue is a Hollywood movie about Black women in prominent positions of strength and agency.

For her part, Viola Davis urged moviegoers everywhere to support the film to send a message that films with Black women leads could be commercially successful. Thankfully, truth prevailed, and The Woman King grossed over 94 million dollars at the Box Office.

Why We Love Viola Davis

We love Viola Davis because still she rises. She encompasses a joy despite the systemic issues working against her. She is also strong enough to call out the system despite the gaslighting and victim blaming that is often associated with high visibility advocacy. She is an outspoken advocate against colorism, anti-Blackness, misogynoir, and sexism. In her 2015 speech for her Emmy win for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Viola Davis famously stated that “[y]ou can not win awards for roles that are not there.” Advocating for diversity that increases opportunities for Black women and other underrepresented groups. It is a remix of an old pro-Black ideal: we don’t need a handout, we need you to get the hell out of the way so we can achieve all on our own!

We love Viola Davis because she goes into so many roles with her mask off. We see her in natural hairstyles, makeup that flatters her unambiguous features, and with resounding Blackness and majesty that speaks to sociopolitical issues in our community through the roles she inhabits.

EGOT status is a rare and coveted distinction that only 18 people throughout entertainment history have managed to achieve: earning Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards during a media career. Davis is the 4th Black EGOT winner, joining Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, and John Legend in the rarefied distinction.

The honor is well-earned and cements the iconic status of Viola Davis’ illustrious film and media career.

Now, pay her what she’s due Hollywood!

We, the fans, demand it.

Congratulations to Viola Davis.