Viola Davis could well win two Emmys this year: one for her work as a cutthroat lawyer on the ABC drama series “How to Get Away with Murder” and another for her acclaimed performance as a compassionate judge in the telefilm “Custody,” which aired on Lifetime on March 4. Should she prevail for the latter, it would be only the second win for a performer in a Lifetime program following that of Mary Tyler Moore who picked up her seventh career Emmy in 1993 for her supporting performance in the movie “Stolen Babies.”
Unlike Moore, Davis has only a single Emmy but it’s a historic one. In 2015, she became the first African-American to win Best Drama Actress for the first season of “HTGAWM.” Since then, Davis has been busy achieving other awards milestones, so why not add becoming Lifetime’s first acting winner this century to her impressive resume?
Last fall Davis reprised her Tony-winning role in “Fences” in Denzel Washington‘s big screen adaptation. For her work, she won her first Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards as well as her fifth SAG Award. Her bid at the Academy Awards broke her tie with Whoopi Goldberg as the only African-American actresses with two Oscar nominations. With her Oscar win, she also became the the first African-American performer to claim the triple crown of acting (and the 25th overall). And she was the 10th performer to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role.
“Custody” premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival before being acquired by Lifetime. The film was a passion project for Davis as she not only stars in the film but also serves as an executive producer with her husband Julius Tennon. If the film is also nominated at the Emmys for Best TV Movie, it would be Davis’s first bid as a producer and Tennon’s first-ever from the TV academy.
Davis plays Martha Schulman, a hardworking judge in New York Family Court. She tries to be fair to those who come before her, including Sara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who is fighting to keep her children. Martha deals with the strain and stress of a difficult job and a complicated home life, and critic Nigel M. Smith (Guardian) called Davis’s performance “remarkable,” while John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter) says the film’s “broad appeal is enhanced by exceptional performances from Moreno and co-star Viola Davis.”
Davis will likely face off against two sets of co-stars: Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon from “Feud: Bette and Joan” and Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman from “Big Little Lies.” With the Emmys changing their voting last year from a ranked ballot to a straight plurality vote those co-stars could divide support, leaving room for Davis, who has more goodwill than ever.
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