Danai Gurira

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Danai Gurira
Danai Gurira at a 2013 Walking Dead event
Gurira at a 2013 Walking Dead event
Born Danai Jekesai Gurira
(1978-02-14) February 14, 1978 (age 36)
Grinnell, Iowa
Citizenship American
Zimbabwean
Alma mater Macalester College
Tisch School of the Arts
Occupation Actress, playwright
Years active 2004–present
Website
danaigurira.com

Danai Jekesai Gurira (born February 14, 1978) is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright. She is best known for her role as Michonne on the AMC drama series The Walking Dead.

Early life[edit]

Gurira was born in Grinnell, Iowa to Josephine Gurira, a university librarian mother, and Roger Gurira, a chemistry professor father.[1][2] Gurira lived in Grinnell until December 1983, when she was 5 years old, and the family moved back to Harare, Zimbabwe after Zimbabwe gained independence.[3]

Gurira sees her parents as part of a generation of Africans "that first came here in the ’60s, like my parents. Like Barack Obama’s father, who came here in the ’60s from Kenya, from Zimbabwe, from those countries that were still in colonization."[4] "But I have parents who were here from the ’60s to the ’80s, and my entire life I grew up with a picture of Martin Luther King on the mantelpiece (laughter) that he signed for my mother in Zimbabwe."[4]

Gurira is the youngest of four siblings:[2] Choni, Tare and Shingai.[1] She has an older brother who is a chiropractor and two older sisters, while her mother is a university librarian and her father is a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville.[2]

Her childhood was unique, Gurira says, because "I was just in a home where my father was a very affirming man. He was an academic. He wanted his children to think for themselves, speak for themselves, and make their own decisions. He just wanted to facilitate that, so he has three pretty strong-spoken daughters as we’ve grown up."[4]

On the return to Zimbabwe, the early Mugabe years: "I was in a very multi-racial, multi-cultural schooling system. I had a really delightful childhood. I was a jock. I became a very competitive swimmer in Zimbabwe. I was a swimmer, a tennis player, a hockey player. Then, when I was 13, I joined a Children's Performing Arts workshop in Zimbabwe."[5][6]

After high school Gurira returned to the United States to study at Macalester College, graduating with a BA in psychology.[2] On her experience at Macalester: "It's Macalester College, where Kofi Annan went. A lot of Africans come there; a lot of Caribbeans come there. There’s African Americans there as well. There’s a very interesting connection I feel to everybody, because of course I grew up on the continent, so I totally have a connection to that experience."[4] On the choice of studying psychology: "I was really looking at race, population, gender and how we psychologically function in a way that affects our societal outcomes around those issues."[5]

She has a MFA in Acting from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[7]

Career[edit]

Gurira said that the original impetus behind writing plays was that she was "looking for things to perform. I was looking for monologues to audition with. I was looking for things like that, and I just couldn’t find stuff that told the stories that I thought were fascinating to tell."[4] She said that she "fell in love with a lot of Western playwrights. I love Chekov, of course love Shakespeare, love Ibsen, love Shaw, and there were also times I was like, 'But there’s an African version of these types of stories.' I could see how Chekov must have loved his people and just was like sitting there and watching them and going, 'Oh my God, my people, my people. I got to write about these people.' .... So it really just propelled me to really feel like I need to start writing stories. Initially, it was just like I need something to perform that actually kind of speaks to my strengths and speaks to women I know of and stories I think are important to tell. Then it became something bigger than that. It became – there’s an absence of, there’s a dearth of stories that come from the complex – a lot of my plays are about Africans that come from that complex African portrayal and experience and mind-set. I think that there’s something so interesting to say and to see about us, and so I just wanted it to be seen and heard. I just thought, why not see these stories as much as we see everybody else’s?"[4]

On how psychology influences her work: "I wanted to bring some voice to issues that concerned me. I couldn't see how the dramatic arts were going to make a huge change. But then I went to South Africa and met all these artists who had done things to affect change through their art during apartheid. I got totally convicted that what I needed to do what was tell African women's stories – the unheard voices."[5]

In 2006, Gurira won an Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for writing, and a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress[7] for off-Broadway play In the Continuum. She starred in the 2007 film The Visitor, for which she won Method Fest Film Festival for Best Supporting Actress. She appeared in Ghost Town, 3 Backyards, My Soul to Take, and Restless City. She has guest starred in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Life on Mars, and Law & Order.

In 2009, Gurira debuted on Broadway in August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone.[8] From 2010 to 2011, she appeared in the HBO drama series Treme. Gurira's play, In the Continuum, commemorated World AIDS Day in December 2011.[9]

In March 2012, it was announced that she would join the cast of AMC's drama series The Walking Dead in the third season as Michonne.[10][11] Her casting in the show was announced live on TV.[12] Gurira knew how to use swords from her time at Yale, but she had to learn how to ride horses for The Walking Dead, which she liked because it was a physical challenge.[13] The same year, she received the Whiting Writers' Award.

In 2013, Gurira played a lead role in director Andrew Dosunmu's independent drama film Mother of George, which premiered at 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Gurira received critical acclaim for her performance in the movie of a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States -- in what Gurira considers a celebration of "the African expression on American soil."[4][14][15]

In June 2013, Gurira won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.[16]


Her play Familiar, inspired by her mother's family, is scheduled to open in January 2015. The play, written by Gurira and directed by Rebecca Taichman, focuses on the conflict that arises when a first-generation American bride-to-be insists on observing a traditional Zimbabwean wedding ritual.[17] "We don't often see stories of current first generation Americans - children whose parents speak differently, perhaps completely different languages, whose identity is complex and multinanational. I believe that cultural specificity in storytelling can reveal to us how universally familiar we all are," Gurira said about the play.[18]


On her dual careers: “I love writing for other actors, women of African descent and people who are generally underrepresented,” she said. “I love seeing that on the stage, being able to step out and see an actress who I know has amazing chops but has never been able to show them, seeing her get an opportunity to do that…. At the same time as an actor I love the fact that I can enact other people’s vision.”[2]

On Zimbabwe: "Those formative years in forming my world perspective, my understanding of Zimbabwean people, forming my understanding of my own heritage, the post-colonial experience, the neocolonial experience, how we navigate the world as people of African descent and also living here and understanding it from that perspective, definitely enriched who I am. And I’m constantly thinking about and negotiating how to bridge the distance between the African and the American and how to connect them. That’s my sort of thing, which is why I try to bring African stories to the American stage but in ways that are accessible. I want that connection to be felt."

Personal life[edit]

Gurira is a Christian.[19] She currently lives in Los Angeles.[20] Gurira speaks four languages: French, Shona, basic Xhosa and English.[1] She has taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.[1]

Gurira on her identity: "I call myself Zimerican. I was born in the Midwest to Zimbabwean parents."[5]

Philanthropy[edit]

Personal Interests[edit]

Gurira is not a fan of horror movies, surprisingly, because she does not enjoy being scared.[23] Her favorite TV shows include Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.[24] Gurira is also a fan of dogs, saying, "My first pet was a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix named Ace. She loved to chase cars — and thus her demise. My new rescue dog is just a 15-pound gangsta."[25] Gurira regularly spends time in New York City, stating, "New York will always be my city. I go to this hole-in-the-wall place called Cafe Himalaya for astounding Tibetan food."[26]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2007 The Visitor Zainab Method Fest Film Festival for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated - Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cast
Nominated – Gotham Awards for Best Ensemble Cast
2008 Ghost Town Assorted ghost
2010 3 Backyards Woman in Blue Dress
My Soul to Take Jeanne-Baptiste
2011 Restless City Sisi
2013 Mother of George Adenike Olumide Balogun Black Reel Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Breakthrough Performance
Nominated - American Black Film Festival - Best Actress

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2004 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Marei Rosa Rumbidzai Episode: "Inert Dwarf"
2009 Life on Mars Angela Episode: "The Simple Secret of the Note in Us All"
Law & Order Courtney Owens Episode: "Fed"
2010 American Experience Sarah Steward Episode: "Dolley Madison"
Lie to Me Michelle Russo Episode: "Exposed"
2010–2011 Treme Jill 6 episodes
2012–present The Walking Dead Michonne Main Cast (season 3-present; 30 episodes)
Satellite Award for Best Cast – Television Series (2012)

Stage[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2005 In the Continuum Unknown Writer
Obie Award
Outer Critics Circle Award
Helen Hayes Award
John Gassner Award
2009 Joe Turner's Come and Gone Martha Pentecost
2011 Measure for Measure Isabella
2012 The Convert Unknown Writer[27]
Nominated – Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Writing[28]
2015 Familiar[29] Writer

Works or publications[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Donloe, Darlene (18 April 2012). "The ‘Zamerican’ Danai Gurira Examines The Convert". LA Stage Times. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f McIntyre, Gina (6 November 2012). "Walking Dead: Danai Gurira Doubles as Michonne and a Playwright". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  3. ^ "Playscript: The Convert". American Theatre (Theatre Communications Group) 30 (7): 70–71. September 2013. ISSN 8750-3255. OCLC 10594175. Retrieved 27 October 2014. "The complete text of Danai Gurira's tumultuous journey into Zimbabwe's colonial history. Plus: a conversation with the playwright by Tim Sanford." 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Smiley, Tavis (10 October 2013). "Actress-playwright Danai Gurira" (Video interview; includes complete transcript). Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Peisner, David (17 October 2013). "Danai Gurira: 'The Walking Dead' Reminds Me of a War Zone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Mims, Sergio (3 March 2012). "Danai Gurira: Actress and Playwright with Africa on Her Mind". Ebony. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Danai Gurira - Playwriting Resume". Danai Gurira. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Kachka, Boris (3 May 2009). "Into Africa: Danai Gurira". New York. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Danai Gurira Teams Up With Rooftop". Zimbo Jam. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (18 March 2012). "'The Walking Dead' Casts Sword-Wielding Heroine Michonne". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Ross, Dalton (23 May 2012). "'The Walking Dead': Exclusive first look at Danai Gurira as fan favorite Michonne". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (22 March 2012). "'The Walking Dead's' Danai Gurira Excited to Embody Badass Michonne". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  13. ^ King, Susan (19 September 2013). "'Walking Dead's' Danai Gurira aims to go deep in her varied roles". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Bell, Nicholas (13 September 2013). "Mother of George - Review". IonCinema. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  15. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (23 January 2013). "Sundance: 'Lovelace' is a porn biopic that gets under your skin". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Jean-Claude Gahd Dam". Spike. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  17. ^ "2014-2015 Yale Repertory Theatre Season". yalerep.org. Yale Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  18. ^ "2014-2015 Yale Repertory Theatre Season". yalerep.org. Yale Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  19. ^ Donloe, Darlene. "The ‘Zamerican’ Danai Gurira Examines The Convert". LA Stage Times. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  20. ^ Knorovsky, Katie (10 March 2014). "African Storyteller: Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira". National Geographic Traveler. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Danai Gurira". Starpulse.com. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  22. ^ AP (26 January 2014). "Gurira: Zim helped shape theatre passion". New Zimbabwe. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  23. ^ Weekly Staff, US. "Danai Gurira: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Me". usmagazine.com. US Weekly. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  24. ^ Weekly Staff, US. "Danai Gurira: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Me". usmagazine.com. US Weekly. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Weekly Staff, US. "Danai Gurira: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Me". usmagazine.com. US Weekly. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Weekly Staff, US. "Danai Gurira: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Me". usmagazine.com. US Weekly. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  27. ^ Gray, Margaret (23 April 2012). "Theater review: 'The Convert' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  28. ^ Maier, Marissa (25 January 2013). "Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Nominees Announced (Full List)". Backstage. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  29. ^ "2014-2015 Yale Repertory Theatre Season". yalerep.org. Yale Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 

External links[edit]