Viola Davis makes Oscars history as the most-nominated Black female actress ever, receiving her fourth acting nomination and second-best actress nod for her performance as the lead in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Joining Davis in this category is Andra Day as well, making it only the second time in the history of the Oscars that two Black female actresses will be competing in the same category at the same time.
Davis, 55, received her fourth nomination last month and second for best actress – and, in so doing, Davis not only becomes the most nominated Black female actress but she also becomes the only Black woman to receive two best actress nominations in the history of the Oscars.
It’s no surprise that Davis emerges as one of the contenders to spot at the Oscars. After receiving critical acclaim for her performance and earning nominations from the Golden Globes, the Critic’s Choice Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it was almost inevitable that an Academy nomination would follow.
Davis received Oscars nominations in the past for her work in Doubt, The Help and Fences – the latter of which saw her take home the best-supporting actress Oscar. Her first best actress nomination came for her work in The Help, but Meryl Streep took home the Oscar that year for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady.
To date, only one black actress has ever won the Oscar for best actress. That was Halle Berry, who took the award for her work in Monster’s Bal in 2002. And since 2002, only four other black women—other than Davis ( The Help and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) have received nominations for best actress – Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Ruth Negga (Loving), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
Only Whoopi Goldberg joins this illustrious pair to have received multiple nominations as a Black female performer. Goldberg was nominated for her work in The Color Purple and Ghost – the latter of which saw her the Oscar 30 years ago.
In the meanwhile, Denzel Washington remains the most nominated Black actor of all time with eight nominations and two wins and Morgan Freeman follows as the second most nominated actor with five nods and one win.
At the 93rd Academy Awards, slated to get underway at the end of April, Davis will face stiff competition to win her second Oscar and first best actress Oscar. It’s a star-studded field in play for the best actress honours this year, with Cary Mulligan for Promising Young Woman leading the charge in the betting as the bookies’ fave.
According to odds markets across various betting outlets, Mulligan is the favourite to win the Oscar for best actress, while Andra Day, for her work in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, emerges as the second best bet. Academy Awards stalwart, Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), along with Viola Davis round out the five women that were shortlisted by the Academy this year for best actress, with Davis sandwiched in between the pair as the fourth best bet according to early Oscars odds.
When asked about her historic nomination by Variety, Davis was quite philosophical in her response, highlighting the fact that receiving only a fourth nomination in her career was in fact a condemning inditement of the industry and how few opportunities are given to people of colour.
“For me, it’s a reflection of the lack of opportunities and access to opportunities people of color have had in this business,” said Davis to Variety. “If me, going back to the Oscars four times in 2021, makes me the most nominated Black actress in history, that’s a testament to the sheer lack of material there has been out there for artists of color.”