Viola Davis is a strong presence on screen, and she bring brevity and depth to any character she plays. Perhaps that’s why she’s the first black actor to ever receive the triple crown of acting achievements: an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony. Not only is she a brilliant actress, but she goes out of her way to make powerful films with strong black female leads to empower voices that were ignored in Hollywood for far too long.
Witness the majesty of Viola Davis in these classic film and television roles.
Liam Neeson’s Harry Rawlings, a renowned thief, is killed during a robbery gone awry. Now his widow (played by Davis) has to gather the crew’s widows to pull a heist of their own and get a feared crime boss off her back. Davis is simply a badass in this 2018 Chicago-based thriller.
9. Knight & Day
Character: Director George
This mostly forgettable 2010 action comedy paired Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as a covert operative and his unwitting love interest. Davis, however, shines as she proves her on-screen confidence is so powerful, she can pull off a believable C.I.A. Director. This high-level, c-suite government role is where she finds her sweet spot she can return to anytime she wants for the rest of her career.
8. Lila & Eve
Davis joins Jennifer Lopez in this 2015 film as a single mother in Atlanta whose son is killed in a drive-by shooting. She joins another grieving mother (Lopez) to seek revenge while staying out of the cross-hairs of the police. It’s a crime drama with something real to say about what citizens (especially of certain social classes) have to do when the cops won’t listen.
7. Won’t Back Down
Character: Nona Alberts
This inspiring 2012 movie about a teacher (Davis) and one of her students’ mothers (Maggie Gyllenhaal) trying to cut through red tape to fix their kids’ school. The teacher’s union president is corrupt, as is the principle, but their principals prove stronger.
Character: Mrs. Miller
This 2008 period drama is set in a Bronx Catholic church parish school in 1964, where young altar boy Donald (Joseph Foster) is the first black student. Davis plays his mother, who struggles with tough decisions when her gay son is molested by Father Flynn, played to creepy perfection by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
5. Suicide Squad
Character: Amanda Waller
Generally derided by critics, 2016’s Suicide Squad is a surprise hit for DC. It’s also a unique movie in the superhero genre for featuring supervillains as antiheroes. With an all-star cast including Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto as the Joker, Davis stands strong. She manages to feel like the worst villain of them all, despite being the face of our government…oh wait, I get it.
4. Get on Up
Character: Susie Brown
The 2014 James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular character is a marvel to behold. Davis has a brief, albeit vital, role as Brown’s mom, whose life decisions shape the art and career to form the man we remember him as today. Musician biopics are always great, and Get on Up is no exception, thanks in no small part to Davis’s small part.
Character: Rose Lee Maxson
Denzel Washington starred in and directed this 2016 period drama set in 1950s Pittsburgh. Davis plays his wife Rose, who suffers through all of his bad life decisions. She knows it’s fueled by the tragedy of their time, place, and race of birth. It’s a heart-wrenching depiction of what mothers have to do. She’ll fight a war to keep her family together and build a brighter future for their children.
2. The Help
Character: Aibileen Clark
This 2011 period drama is both critically acclaimed and beloved by audiences, but Davis felt it lacked the true perspective of African-American maids in 1963 Mississippi. Hell, it can’t possibly be much better down there for them in 2018. Still, her turn as Aibileen Clark proved Davis is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
1. How to Get Away with Murder
Character: Annalise Keeting
Arguably her most successful role, Davis heads this ABC drama series as a Philadelphia law professor who becomes entwined in a murder plot herself. The network renewed the show for a sixth season in May 2019, so there’s still plenty more of this intriguing plot to go. I’d recommend you start catching up on it now so you’re ready by the premiere.