SAG Awards nominee profile: Viola Davis (‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’) would make history with second Best Actress win

Viola Davis has been nominated for 10 Screen Actors Guild Awards to date, winning five statuettes for her work across film and television. This year the the Oscar winner has two chances to increase her haul with bids for Best Actress and Best Ensemble for playing the titular character in the Netflix movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

In Best Actress, Davis faces off against Amy Adams (“Hillbilly Elegy”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”). All of these women have a history of being lauded by their peers.

Adams has 10 nominations with one win for Best Film Ensemble in 2014 for “American Hustle.” Kirby is on her third nomination, with two previous bids for Best TV Drama Ensemble for “The Crown” (2017-2018). McDormand has eight noms, winning Best Actress trophies for “Fargo” in 1997 and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2018 (she also won Best Ensemble for the latter) and Best TV Movie/Mini Actress for “Olive Kitteridge” in 2015. Mulligan was up for Best Actress and Best Ensemble for “An Education” in 2010 and earned a second ensemble nomination in 2018 for “Mudbound.”

Davis was first recognized at the SAG Awards in 2009 for her supporting role in “Doubt,” earning nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble. In 2012 she took home two trophies for Best Film Actress and Best Film Ensemble for “The Help.” She followed that up with a pair of wins in 2015 and 2016 for Best TV Drama Actress in “How to Get Away With Murder” and in 2017 she won Best Film Supporting Actress for “Fences” (which was also nominated for Best Film Ensemble).

In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Davis plays the titular character, a fiery and influential blues legend who joins her band for a recording session in 1920s Chicago. Tensions rise when Ma arrives late and engages in both a musical and romantic tug-of-war with her cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman), who has an ear for changing Ma’s musical arrangements and an eye for her girlfriend. Davis embodies the fearless diva and gives a knockout performance in the Netflix film, drenched in sweat and over-the-top makeup while she belts out rich, soulful music and asserts her power over her band and music producers.

The cast of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will also compete in the Best Ensemble category against “Da 5 Bloods,” “Minari,” “One Night in Miami” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” If Davis wins one of her two bids, she will stand alone in fourth place for most SAG Awards by any actress. If she takes home both, Davis will join Allison Janney in third place with seven wins. Julia Louis-Dreyfus holds the record with nine wins followed by Julianna Margulies with eight. Davis became the second Black woman to win Best Actress when she took home the prize for “The Help,” preceded only by Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002. With a win this year, she would become just the third woman to win Best Actress twice at the SAG Awards, following McDormand and Renee Zellweger.

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2021 contenders in film and TV.

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