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

Viola Davis has been nominated for four Oscars to date, winning in 2017 for her supporting role in the screen adaptation of August Wilson‘s play “Fences.” Four years on she could bookend that prize with a second Academy Award for another film based on one of Wilson’s stage classics, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Davis is now the single most nominated Black actress in Oscar history with this bid for Best Actress in Netflix’s musical drama. Hot off her victory at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, this trailblazer could make more history if she takes home her second statuette at the April 25 ceremony. She’d be the first Black actress with two Oscars and just the second winner in the Best Actress category, following Halle Berry‘s memorable win for “Monster’s Ball” (2001).

Davis faces off against Andra Day (“The United States Vs. Billie Holiday”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) in the race for Best Actress. Of her rivals, only McDormand has more clout with six acting bids to date and two wins. Mulligan was nominated once prior while both Day and Kirby are first-timers.

SEE 2021 Oscar nominations: Full list of nominees in all 23 categories at the 93rd Academy Awards

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.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” earned five Oscar nominations total. In addition to Davis, Boseman will contend for Best Actor and below-the-line bids for Best Costume Design, Make-up & Hairstyling and Production Design are at play as well. Davis’ Oscar glory began with her first nom for Best Supporting Actress in “Doubt” (2008). That was followed up by a Best Actress nomination for “The Help” (2011) and her winning supporting performance in “Fences” (2016).

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “Oscar nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2021 contenders.

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