To date, the Golden Globe Awards have rewarded just a single Black performer in their film drama actress category, Whoopi Goldberg, who triumphed for 1985’s “The Color Purple. But that could finally change with two Black nominees in the running this year, Viola Davis for Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and Andra Day for Hulu’s “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” They’re both contending for playing real-life singers — Davis, blues singer Ma Rainey; Day, the titular jazz icon Billie Holiday.
The 11th and 12th Black nominees in this category, Davis and Day are just the second pair of Black women to make the cut in the same year after Diana Ross (“Lady Sings the Blues”) — also, ironically, for playing Holiday — and Cicely Tyson (“Sounder”) were the first to do so in 1973. If either one of them prevails, they’d not only become the second Black actress to win in this category but the ninth across all three drama, comedy/musical and supporting actress film categories, as well as the 18th Black performer on the film side altogether.
One of the past eight Black actresses to win on the film side is Davis herself, who bagged the supporting actress statuette for 2016’s “Fences.” Her nom for “Ma Rainey” marks her fourth one for film — her two other bids are for 2008’s “Doubt” (supporting) and 2011’s “The Help” (lead) — and sixth overall, as she’s also a two-time TV drama actress nominee for “How to Get Away with Murder” (2015-16). She’s currently in second place in our collective odds for her transformative turn as the Mother of the Blues in “Ma Rainey,” which is based on August Wilson‘s 1984 play of the same name and chronicles a chaotic recording session of Rainey’s album in 1927 Chicago.
A two-time Grammy nominee, Day, on the other hand, makes her feature film debut in “Billie Holiday,” which centers on the legendary singer’s struggles with addiction and her experience being targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics. In addition to her drama actress nom, Day also raked in an original song mention for “Tigress & Tweed,” which plays at the end of the film and she co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq. As of this writing, she’s in fifth place in our odds for drama actress and in second place for original song.
We know that HFPA members are suckers for actors portraying real-life people — after all, Renée Zellweger won this category for playing Judy Garland in “Judy” just last year — so could they have a hard time choosing between Davis and Day? While their roles might seem similar on paper, the two actresses are operating within completely dissimilar parameters — Davis within a dialogue-heavy and -driven world of a Wilson play adaptation; Day within that of a traditional biopic. Both also check different, albeit equally important, Globes-specific boxes: Davis undergoes a complete physical transformation, while Day is the new star the Hollywood Foreign Press Association could crown.
Rounding out the drama actress lineup are Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), who’s in first place, Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) in third and Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) in fourth.
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