Celebrate Viola Davis making Oscar history with all her amazing movies
Amanda Waller is at it again! Viola Davis made Academy Awards history this morning, when she nabbed a Best Actress nomination for her performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. This makes Davis the Black actress with the most acting nominations in Academy history (four) and the only Black woman with two Best Actress nominations.
Do you know what Viola Davis’s other acting nominations were for? If you’re thinking Suicide Squad was one of them, you’re wrong – although that film did win an Oscar for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. At any rate, don’t worry: we’re here to prep you for that upcoming Oscars party. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and highlight the Viola Davis movies everyone should watch.
Viola Davis scored her first Supporting Actress nomination in this adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning & Tony Award-winning stage play. The story takes place in a Roman Catholic elementary school where Sister James (Amy Adams) expresses concerns to the principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), about Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) paying too much attention to their only black student.
Out of all the Viola Davis movies in this list, this is the one that has the least amount of Viola Davis in it. The acclaimed actress gets only one scene in the entire film but, oh boy, what a scene. Davis plays the mother of the kid at the center of the investigation and her quiet, powerful performance stands out in contrast to the three leads’ more showboaty (one would say “award-baity” even) turns.
The Help (2011)
Everyone’s seen The Help, right? Another adaptation, this time of the Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name, Tate Taylor’s movie was a big hit with The Academy as well as with audiences. Once again, Viola Davis was surrounded by names we’ve grown to know & love: Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
The Help is one of those crowd pleasing movies about the evils of racism. Set in 1963, the story focuses on aspiring journalist Eugenia Phelan (Stone) and her relationship with two black maids – Abileen Clark (Davis) & Minny Jackson (Spencer) – as she writes a book from the point of view of “the help”.
Viola Davis received her first Best Actress nomination for her role as Abileen. The big winner on the night of the awards was Octavia Spencer, however, beating costar Jessica Chastain on the Best Supporting Actress category.
At this point, would you be surprised to find out Viola Davis got her second Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work on yet another film adaptation? Produced, directed, and starring Denzel Washington, Fences is based on the August Wilson play of the same name. The story focuses on Troy Maxson (Washington) and his struggle to come up with his place in the world.
Viola Davis plays Rose Lee, Troy’s wife, quietly putting up with the man’s violent outbursts and nonstop barrage of bull$h@t . . . until she’s had enough. Davis matches Washington’s epic performance beat by beat, so it’s no surprise she once again captured The Academy’s attention.
This time, however, Viola Davis won. She beat strong competition from Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), and fellow The Help alum Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
No Academy Awards nominations for Viola Davis in this one, but we figured you wouldn’t mind if we threw in a couple of other awesome movies in her filmography anyway. Steve McQueen’s thriller saw Davis leading an all-women team of, well, widows, trying to survive the aftermath of their husbands’ deaths. The catch: all their husbands were career-criminals with debts to pay.
The movie is as bad@** as it sounds, especially once you know the other women on the team are Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
Ah, here we are. The latest Best Actress nomination for Viola Davis is – everyone together now – for her role in a film adaptation of a stage play. Davis is back on the August Wilson train, this time as the lead. Her Ma Rainey is a big character and the actress does a fantastic job of being larger than life while also giving us a window into Ma’s humanity & vulnerability.
In the movie, Viola Davis goes toe-to-toe with Chadwick Boseman (who got a posthumous Best Actor nomination). Boseman plays Levee Green, Ma’s band’s cocky trumpeter who’s determined to make a name for himself. The entire film takes place over a tense recording session back in the 1920s. It’s on Netflix right now, so if you haven’t seen it yet, do it as soon as you’re done with this article.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Listen, we had to mention it, for the lolz if nothing else. But also because, as much of a mess as Suicide Squad is – even when compared to other DCEU movies – Viola Davis shines as Amanda Waller in it. The tough woman behind the team of supervillains-turned-reluctant-heroes might be the one element of the movie that works exactly the way it’s meant to.
Other than makeup & hairstyling, of course.
— Are there any Viola Davis movies you’d add to this list of must-sees? Let us know in the comments!
Julio Olivera is an independent filmmaker and podcaster based in Austin, Texas. A native Peruvian, Julio fell in love with American media early on and has made it a constant driving force in his life since moving to the U.S.