SAG Awards nominee profile: Danielle Deadwyler (‘Till’)

With just six feature film credits under her belt, Danielle Deadwyler has already hit a major career milestone by earning her first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. This recognition comes for her harrowing work as Mamie Till-Mobley in “Till,” which, after a long development period, finally exists as an emotionally impactful account of one of the darkest pieces of American history. Although her competition is stiff, the sheer power of her performance in her regrettably timely film may be more than enough to secure her victory.

Along with Ana de Armas (“Blonde”), Deadwyler is one of two total SAG Awards newcomers in this year’s Best Film Actress lineup. Also new to the category is Michelle Yeoh, who, after being recognized as a “Crazy Rich Asians” ensemble member in 2019, has now received solo and cast bids for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Rounding out the group are SAG Awards heavy-hitters Cate Blanchett (“TAR”) and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”), who now have a collective total of 29 nominations and nine wins from the guild. Davis has prevailed twice in this category for “The Help” (2012) and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2021), while Blanchett has one lead win to her name for “Blue Jasmine” (2014).

The historical figure Deadwyler portrays in “Till” was just an ordinary 1950s Midwestern mother until the brutal murder of her teenage son, Emmett Till, spurned her dedication to Civil Rights activism. As she grapples with the immense pain of losing her only child to a hateful, thoroughly calculated act of violence, she comes to comprehend the evils of racism better than most and resolves to do all she can to mobilize others into taking an unrelenting stand against it.

Deadwyler and Davis are only the second pair of Black actresses to ever compete against each other in this category. The ones who set that precedent were Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) and Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”), who both lost the 2020 contest to Renée Zellweger (“Judy”). Deadwyler would also directly follow Davis as the third Black Best Film Actress winner, the first of whom was Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball,” 2002).

Including Berry, Davis, Erivo, and Nyong’o, seven Black women have preceded Deadwyler in receiving SAG Award nominations for lead film roles. The three remaining entrants on this list are Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown,” 1998), Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious,” 2010), and Jennifer Hudson (“Respect,” 2022). Of the 10 Black female performances that have been recognized here, Deadwyler’s is the fourth biographical one, after Erivo’s as Harriet Tubman, Davis’s as Ma Rainey, and Hudson’s as Aretha Franklin.

This article is a part of Gold Derby’s “SAG Awards nominee profile” series spotlighting the 2023 contenders in film and TV.

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