And the Oscar goes to … Viola Davis! The Fences star, 51, nabbed the Supporting Actress trophy of the 89th Academy Awards, accepting the statuette from presenter Mark Rylance. “I became an artist and thank God I did,” she told the crowd at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre February 26. “Because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” Watch her moving speech in the video above and watch the live blog here!
The actress, previously nominated for 2008’s Doubt and 2011’s The Help, added “And to Dan and Mae Alice Davis, who were and are the center of my universe, the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold, how to lose. My parents — I’m so thankful that God chose you to bring me into this world.” The star made history in more ways than one. After Cabaret’s Joel Grey, she is only the second actor to win both an Oscar and a Tony Award for the same role. In 2010, she won Best Actress for the Broadway production of August Wilson’s 1983 play about a struggling family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The 2015 Emmy winner (for How to Get Away With Murder) is the 23rd person — and the first black actor — to complete the triple crown of acting.
Her nomination in the Supporting Actress category caused some controversy, with critics contending that her meaty turn as Rose, the stoic wife of bitter — and ultimately unfaithful —Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington, who also directed) should have been in the Best Actress category. Some surmise Davis, or the team behind Fences, thought her chances of winning were stronger against Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea).
Davis has said she used acting as a means to escape a life of grinding poverty growing up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She and her sister Deloris would pretend to be Beverly Hills matrons Jaja and Jagi, she recently told The New Yorker. “We would play this game for hours,” Davis recalled. “‘Oh my, Jaja, I bought this fabulous house and my husband bought me this beautiful diamond ring.’ It was so detailed, to the point where it became transcendent. We actually believed we were in that world.” At age 9, she won a skit competition at the local community center. Her prize: a plastic baseball bat. The future Oscar winner used it to kill rats.
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