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Danai Gurira

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Danai Gurira
Gurira at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
Born
Danai Jekesai Gurira

(1978-02-14) February 14, 1978 (age 46)
CitizenshipUnited States and Zimbabwe
EducationMacalester College (BA)
New York University (MFA)
Occupations
  • Actress
  • playwright
Years active2004–present

Danai Jekesai Gurira (/dəˈn ɡʊˈrɪərə/; born February 14, 1978) is a Zimbabwean-American actress, playwright, and activist. She is best known for her starring roles as Michonne on the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead (2012–2020, 2022) and The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live (2024), and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films, including Black Panther (2018) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).

Gurira is also the playwright of the Broadway play Eclipsed, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.[1]

Danai Gurira also got a nomination for the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. |Url=https://www.dramacritics.org/dc_2015_2016awards.html

Early life and education[edit]

Gurira was born on February 14, 1978, in Grinnell, Iowa, to Josephine Gurira, a college librarian, and Roger Gurira, a tenured professor in the Department of Chemistry at Grinnell College (both parents later joined the staff of University of Wisconsin–Platteville).[2][3][4] Her parents moved from Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, to the United States in 1964.[5] She is the youngest of four siblings; Shingai and Choni are her sisters and Tare, her brother,[3] is a chiropractor. Gurira lived in Grinnell until December 1983, when at age five she and her family moved back to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe,[6] after Robert Mugabe rose to power in 1979.[7]

She attended high school at Dominican Convent High School. Afterward, she returned to the United States to study at Macalester College[4] in Saint Paul, Minnesota, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.[5] Gurira also earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[8]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Gurira taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.[3] One of her earliest notable performances occurred in 2001, as a senior at Macalester College. Gurira performed in a production of the Ntozake Shange play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, directed and choreographed by Dale Ricardo Shields. “She was a very intelligent, strong and independent young lady,” said Shields. “She approached her studies, her classes, with a lot of focus, and you can see the same things in her performance in ‘Black Panther.’ ”[9]

Theater and playwriting[edit]

Gurira at the 2015 The Walking Dead Panel at San Diego Comic Con.

Gurira said that she began writing plays in an effort to better utilize her strengths as an actress, and to tell stories that convey ideas about strong women with whom she identifies.[5] As a playwright, she has been commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons, and the Royal Court.

Gurira co-wrote and co-starred in In the Continuum, first at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and later Off-Broadway, which won her an Obie Award,[10][11] an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress.[8] In December 2011, In the Continuum commemorated World AIDS Day 2011. Sponsored by the United States Embassy in Zimbabwe, the play was performed at Harare's Theatre and featured the story of two women who were navigating the world after contracting HIV.[12]

In 2009, Gurira made her acting debut on Broadway in August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone playing Martha Pentecost.[13]

Gurira's 2012 play The Convert was premiered as a co-production between the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey. Later that year, Gurira received the Whiting Award for an emerging playwright.[14]

In January 2015, Familiar, a play written by Gurira and directed by Rebecca Taichman, opened at Yale Repertory Theatre.[15] It later premiered Off-Broadway in New York at Playwrights Horizons. 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 her family and friends.[16]

In 2015, Lupita Nyong'o starred in Gurira's play, Eclipsed (2009), Off-Broadway at The Public Theater.[17] It was announced that the play would move to Broadway in 2016 at the John Golden Theatre.[18][19][20] It was the first play to premiere on Broadway with an all female and black cast and creative team. The play is set in war-torn Liberia and focuses on three women who are living as sex slaves to a rebel commander, as well as one of his former wives, and a relief worker, and follows and how they deal with this difficult situation.[21] It starred Lupita Nyong'o, Akosua Busia, Saycon Sengbloh, Zainab Jah, and Pascale Armand and was directed by Liesl Tommy.[22] The inspiration for Gurira's play was a photo of Colonel Black Diamond, a female freedom fighter from Liberia, in an article in The New York Times. "Just to see these women standing there, you know, in their jeans and ... fashionable tops and their hair is all done, and they're all carrying AK-47s, was just an image I couldn't get out of my head." The image prompted curiosity about Liberia's fourteen-year civil wars, as well as a research trip to Liberia in 2007. Gurira interviewed more than 30 women who had been raped, among whose daughters that had been taken by rebel fighters and turned into sex slaves. She also spoke to female peace activists who were instrumental in ending the violence. The names of the women in Eclipsed come from the people Gurira met during her travels, whereas the fifth character is unnamed.[23]

She received the 2016 Sam Norkin Award, for Eclipsed and Familiar, presented by the Drama Desk Awards, which said, in part: "Danai Gurira demonstrates great insight, range and depth, bringing a fresh new voice to American theater."[24] Eclipsed was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, and won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Play.[25]

In May 2023 Gurira played Richard III in a Shakespeare in the Park production.

Film and television[edit]

Gurira starred in the drama film The Visitor in 2007, for which she won Method Fest Independent Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actress. She appeared in the 2008 film Ghost Town, the 2010 films 3 Backyards and My Soul to Take, and Restless City in 2011, as well as the television series 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.[5] Gurira received critical acclaim for her performance as a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States.[26][27] In June 2013, Gurira won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.[28]

Gurira played rapper Tupac Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, in All Eyez on Me, a 2017 biopic about the rap star.[29]

In 2020, she signed a deal with ABC Studios.[30]

The Walking Dead[edit]

In March 2012, AMC announced on a live broadcast that Gurira would join the cast of their horror-drama series The Walking Dead, the highest rated series in cable television history,[31] in its third season.[32][33][34] Gurira plays Michonne, a relentless, katana-wielding character who joins a close-knit group in an apocalyptic world.[33][35] Gurira had to learn how to ride horses for the series, which she enjoyed because it was a physical challenge.[36] In February 2019, reports emerged that Gurira would be exiting the show once she had filmed her last episodes during the tenth season.[37] Gurira's final episode, "What We Become" aired in March 2020, and by the time of her departure, she had been second billed in the opening credits.

In July 2022, it was announced by Scott M. Gimple, Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira at the San Diego Comic-Con the spin-off mini-series centered around Michonne and Rick Grimes, with Lincoln and Gurira reprising their roles from the original television series.[38] The limited series, titled The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, premiered in February 2024 and consisted of six episodes.[39] She co-created it, produced it and wrote the fourth episode, titled "What We".[40]

Black Panther[edit]

Danai was cast to star in Marvel's film Black Panther, which was released in February 2018. She played General Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther. She received critical acclaim for her performance,[41] a Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and a People's Choice Awards for The Action Movie Star of 2018. Gurira reprised Okoye in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), and is set to reprise the role starring in an upcoming spinoff series on Disney+.[42]

Activism and philanthropy[edit]

Danai is an advocate for women, the end of poverty and HIV/AIDS awareness.[43][44]

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.[45]

In 2011, Gurira co-founded Almasi Arts, an organization dedicated to continuing arts education in Zimbabwe.[4][46][47] Gurira currently serves as the Executive Artistic Director.[48]

In 2015, Gurira signed an open letter begun by the ONE Campaign. 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.[49] The following year, Gurira founded the non-profit organization Love Our Girls, which aims to highlight the issues and challenges that specifically affect women throughout the world.[50][51] In 2016, Gurira partnered with Johnson & Johnson in the fight against HIV/AIDS.[52]

On December 2, 2018, Gurira was announced as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Gurira dedicates her support to putting a spotlight on gender equality and women's rights, as well as bringing unheard women's voices front and center.[53]

On 23 May 2024, Gurira was among the guests invited to the state dinner hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden in honor of President William Ruto at the White House.[54]

Personal life[edit]

Gurira is a Christian[3] and lives in Los Angeles, though she regularly spends time in New York City.[55][56]

Gurira is multilingual and speaks French, Shona, basic Xhosa, and English.[3]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2007 The Visitor Zainab
2008 My Soul to Take Jeanne-Baptiste
Ghost Town Assorted ghost
2010 3 Backyards Woman in Blue Dress
2011 Restless City Sisi
2013 Mother of George Adenike Olumide Balogun
2015 Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Fury (voice)
2017 All Eyez on Me Afeni Shakur [57][58]
2018 Black Panther Okoye
Avengers: Infinity War
2019 Avengers: Endgame
2022 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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 Recurring (Seasons 1–2); 6 episodes
2012–2020, 2022 The Walking Dead Michonne Main cast (Seasons 3–10) and special guest star (season 11); 96 episodes
2017 Robot Chicken Michonne (voice) Episode: "The Robot Chicken Walking Dead Special: Look Who's Walking"
2021 What If...? Okoye (voice) Episode: "What If... T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?"
Episode: "What If... Zombies?!"
Episode: "What If... Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?"
2023 Great Performances Richard III Season 50, Episode 14:

Richard III filmed live for Shakespeare in the Park

2024 The Walking Dead: The Return Herself TV special
2024 The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Michonne Grimes Lead role; also executive producer, co-creator and writer[59]
TBA Eyes of Wakanda Okoye (voice) In development; upcoming Disney+ miniseries

Theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Venue Ref.
2005 In the Continuum Abigail, et al. Playwright (co-wrote with Nikkole Salter) Primary Stages, Off-Broadway [60]
2009 Joe Turner's Come and Gone Martha Pentecost Broadway acting debut Belasco Theatre, Broadway [61]
2011 Measure for Measure Isabella Shakespeare in the Park Delacorte Theater [62]
2012 The Convert Playwright The Young Vic, London [63]
2015 Familiar Playwright Playwright's Horizons, Off-Broadway [16]
2015 Eclipsed Playwright The Public Theater, Off-Broadway [64]
2016 John Golden Theatre, Broadway [65]
2022 Richard III Richard III Shakespeare in the Park Delacorte Theater [66]

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2020 Fortnite Battle Royale Michonne Likeness
2023 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Playable Character (DLC); Voice and Likeness

Works or publications[edit]

  • Gurira, Danai. Running Head: The Neglect of Black Women in Psychology. 2001. Honors paper, Macalester College
  • Gurira, Danai, and Nikkole Salter. In the continuum. New York, NY: Samuel French, 2008. ISBN 978-0-573-65089-5
  • Gurira, Danai. Eclipsed. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2010. ISBN 978-0-822-22446-4
  • Gurira, Danai. The Convert. Washington, DC : Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 2013.
  • Gurira, Danai. Familiar. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Billy Rose Theatre Division, 2016.
  • Gurira, Danai. Power of women : Lupita Nyong'o. New York: DKC / O&M, 2016.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref
2006 Obie Award Special Citation In the Continuum Won [67]
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Off-Broadway Play Nominated [68]
John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award Won
2007 Helen Hayes Awards Best Lead Actress, Non-Resident Won [69]
2008 Gotham Award Best Ensemble Cast The Visitor Nominated [70]
Boston Society of Film Critics Award Best Cast Nominated
Method Fest Best Supporting Actress Won [71]
2012 Satellite Award Best Cast – Television Series The Walking Dead Won [72]
Whiting Awards Writing in Drama The Convert Won [14]
2013 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award Best Writing Won [73]
Eyegore Awards Best Ensemble Cast Award The Walking Dead Won [74]
Chlotrudis Awards Best Actress Mother of George Nominated [75]
2014 Black Reel Award Best Actress Won [76]
Best Breakthrough Performance Nominated [77]
American Black Film Festival Hollywood Awards Best Actress Nominated [78]
2016 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series The Walking Dead Nominated [79]
Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress on Television Won [80]
Tony Award Best Play Eclipsed Nominated [81]
Lilly Awards Outstanding Playwriting Won [82]
Drama Desk Award Sam Norkin Award Won [83]
Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Play Nominated [84]
TCG Gala Honoree Won [85]
ImageNation Revolution Awards Revolution Award for Artistic Excellence Won [86]
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play Familiar Nominated
Black Girls Rock! Award Star Power Celebrant Herself Won [87]
2017 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series The Walking Dead Nominated [88]
2018 Best Supporting Actress Black Panther Won [89]
Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series The Walking Dead Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best On-Screen Team Black Panther Nominated
Best Fight Avengers: Infinity War Nominated
People's Choice Awards The Action Movie Star of 2018 Black Panther Won
2019 Black Reel Award Outstanding Supporting Actress Black Panther Nominated [90]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won [91]
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series The Walking Dead Won [92]
2024 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Pending [93]

References[edit]

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