Viola Davis won her first Oscar on Sunday, taking home the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her performance as Rose Maxson in Fences. The movie is an adaptation of a play by August Wilson, and in Davis’s speech she honored the playwright’s dedication to bringing out the humanity of life. Wilson died in 2005.
“You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered — one place, and that's the graveyard,” Davis said. She continued:
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 to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and while some make take issue with the statement that acting is the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life, it gets at a core tenet of acting: that actors do their best to disappear into the people they portray and tell their characters’ stories with grace and dignity. Davis, who consistently gives riveting performances on television and in film, is one of the best actors working today when it comes to this disappearing act, whether she’s melting into Maxson in Fences or coaxing the fire out of Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to get Away With Murder.
With her Oscar win, Davis became the first black woman to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for acting. She won an Emmy in 2015 for How to Get Away With Murder, becoming the first black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. And she’s now won two Tonys — the first in 2001 for King Hedley II, and the second in 2010 for a Broadway adaptation of Fences in which she also played Rose.