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 37)
Grinnell, Iowa, United States
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 American actress and playwright, best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead, an AMC television horror drama series.

Early life[edit]

Gurira was born in Grinnell, Iowa to Josephine Gurira, a university librarian, and Roger Gurira, a chemistry professor[1][2] at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville. Her parents came to the United States from Africa in the 1960s.[3] She is the youngest of four siblings; Shingai (eldest) and Choni are her sisters and her brother Tare [1] is a chiropractor. Gurira has stated that she was "outspoken" as a child:

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.[3]

Gurira lived in Grinnell until December 1983, when at age five she and her family moved back to Harare, Zimbabwe[4] after the country had gained independence.[5] On her return to Zimbabwe during the early Robert Mugabe years, Gurira said: "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."[6]

After high school, Gurira returned to the United States to study at Macalester College,[2] graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. On her experience at that school, she has said: "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."[3] She considers her experience of growing up in Zimbabwe and then returning to the United States to have had a major influence on her perspective:

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.[4]

Gurira also earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[7]

Career[edit]

On deciding what to do after getting her degrees, Gurira has said:

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.[6]

Gurira has said that she began writing plays because she felt a need for "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".[3] She co-wrote and co-starred in the off-Broadway play In the Continuum, which won her an Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress.[7] In December 2011, In the Continuum commemorated World AIDS Day.[8][clarification needed]

In 2009, Gurira debuted on Broadway in August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone.[9] Gurira received the Whiting Writers' Award in 2012.[10] In January 2015, Familiar, a play written by Gurira and directed by Rebecca Taichman, opened at Yale Repertory Theatre.[11] The play is about family, cultural identity, and the experience of life as a first-generation American, and Gurira has said that it was inspired in part by family and friends of hers.[12] She has said that her acting and her playwriting complement each other:

I love writing for other actors, women of African descent and people who are generally underrepresented. 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]

She starred in the 2007 film The Visitor, for which she won Method Fest Independent Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has appeared in the films Ghost Town, 3 Backyards, My Soul to Take, and Restless City, as well the television shows Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Life on Mars, and Law & Order. From 2010 to 2011, she appeared in the HBO drama series Treme. 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.[3] Gurira received critical acclaim for her performance as a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States.[13][14]

In June 2013, Gurira won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.[15]

The Walking Dead[edit]

In March 2012, it was announced on live television that Gurira would join the cast of AMC's drama series The Walking Dead, the highest rated drama in cable television history,[16] in its third season.[17][18][19] Gurira plays the role of Michonne, a sword-wielding character who has been described as a fan favorite.[18] Michonne and her friends are forced to relentlessly fight to survive in a violent, apocalyptic world infested with flesh-eating zombies and the few surviving humans, some of whom are even more diabolical and dangerous than the zombies themselves.[20] She had to learn how to ride horses for The Walking Dead, which she enjoyed because it was a physical challenge.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Gurira is a Christian.[1] She currently lives in Los Angeles,[22] and speaks four languages: French, Shona, basic Xhosa, and English.[1] She has taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.[1] She has said: "I call myself Zimerican. I was born in the Midwest to Zimbabwean parents."[6]

In 2008, Gurira appeared at the Global Green Sustainable Design Awards to read a letter written by a New Orleans native displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, she co-founded Almasi, an organization dedicated to continuing arts education in Zimbabwe.[2][23] Gurira is friends with actress Uzo Aduba, who is also an ambassador for Gurira's organization Almasi Arts Alliance.[24]

Gurira has said: "I don't watch horror movies since I don't enjoy being scared."[25] Her favorite TV shows include Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Modern Family.[25] When asked about her musical tastes, Gurira said, "I'm madly in love with the gospel singer Tasha Cobbs and I'm also a big Justin Timberlake fan. That's like my boy."[26]

Gurira told Us Weekly: "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, and has said: "New York will always be my city. I go to this hole-in-the-wall place called Cafe Himalaya for astounding Tibetan food."[25]

Gurira maintains an active lifestyle to keep physically fit. In a 2015 interview with Self, she stated:

Taking care of my body, knowing I'll never get another, is one of my top priorities, and I do what I need to do to get there. I scream through it. Or I yell, "C'mon, Gurira!" It's hard-core, but I dislike the idea of ever being a quitter. I like to be a finisher. I get really pushed by that. I don't want to feel like I've half-assed anything. At the end of the day, it's about knowing I gave it all I could give.[27]

Activism[edit]

In 2015 Gurira signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for; the letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in South Africa respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.[28]

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
2015 Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Fury Voice, direct-to-video (U.S. version)

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2004 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Marei Rosa Rumbidzai Episode: "Inert Dwarf"
2009 Life on Mars (US) 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 Recurring, 6 episodes
2012–present The Walking Dead Michonne Season 3-present (Series Regular; 39 episodes)
Satellite Award for Best Cast – Television Series (2012)

Stage[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2005 In the Continuum Abigail, et. al. 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 Writer[29]
Nominated – Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Writing[30]
2015 Familiar[12] Writer

Works or publications[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Donloe, Darlene (18 April 2012). "The ‘Zamerican’ Danai Gurira Examines The Convert". LA Stage Times. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d McIntyre, Gina (6 November 2012). "Walking Dead: Danai Gurira Doubles as Michonne and a Playwright". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Smiley, Tavis (10 October 2013). "Actress-playwright Danai Gurira" (VIDEO INTERVIEW; INCLUDES COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT). Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Mims, Sergio (3 March 2012). "Danai Gurira: Actress and Playwright with Africa on Her Mind". Ebony. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ a b c Peisner, David (17 October 2013). "Danai Gurira: 'The Walking Dead' Reminds Me of a War Zone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Danai Gurira - Playwriting Resume" (PDF). Danai Gurira. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Danai Gurira Teams Up With Rooftop". Zimbo Jam. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2012. [dead link]
  9. ^ Kachka, Boris (3 May 2009). "Into Africa: Danai Gurira". New York. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Danai Gurira: 2012 Winner in Drama". Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  11. ^ "In Yale Rep's world-premiere 'Familiar,' a family is thrown into flux". Yale News. Yale University. January 14, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "2014-2015 Season: Familiar". Yale Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  13. ^ Bell, Nicholas (13 September 2013). "Mother of George - Review". IonCinema. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (23 January 2013). "Sundance: 'Lovelace' is a porn biopic that gets under your skin". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Jean-Claude Gahd Dam". Spike. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Bibel, Sara (March 30, 2015). "'The Walking Dead' Season 5 Finale is Highest Rated Finale in Series History, Garnering 15.8 Million Viewers". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  17. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (18 March 2012). "'The Walking Dead' Casts Sword-Wielding Heroine Michonne". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  18. ^ a b Ross, Dalton (23 May 2012). "'The Walking Dead': Exclusive first look at Danai Gurira as fan favorite Michonne". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  19. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (22 March 2012). "'The Walking Dead's' Danai Gurira Excited to Embody Badass Michonne". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Michonne". amctv.com. AMC. Retrieved 2015-04-19. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Knorovsky, Katie (10 March 2014). "African Storyteller: Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira". National Geographic Traveler. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  23. ^ AP (26 January 2014). "Gurira: Zim helped shape theatre passion". New Zimbabwe. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Meet Our Team". Almasi Arts Alliance. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  25. ^ a b c d US Weekly Staff. "Danai Gurira: 25 Things You Didn't Know About Me". Us Weekly. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Rothman, Lily. "The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira on Michonne and Planning for Zombies". entertainment.time.com. Time. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  27. ^ Bried, Erin (February 17, 2015). "The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira Talks Staying Balanced and Strong". Self (Condé Nast). Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  28. ^ Tracy McVeigh. "Poverty is sexist: leading women sign up for global equality | Life and style". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-05-08. 
  29. ^ Gray, Margaret (23 April 2012). "Theater review: 'The Convert' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  30. ^ Maier, Marissa (25 January 2013). "Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Nominees Announced (Full List)". Backstage. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 

External links[edit]