Gurira at the San-Diego Comic-Con International in 2017
Danai Jekesai Gurira
February 14, 1978
Grinnell, Iowa, U.S.
|Alma mater||Macalester College (B.A)|
New York University (M.F.A.)
Danai Jekesai Gurira (born February 14, 1978) is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright, best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead, an AMC television horror drama series, as the writer of the play Eclipsed, and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise (beginning with Black Panther, and later reprising her role in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame).
Early life and education
Gurira was born in Grinnell, Iowa, to Josephine Gurira, a college librarian, and Roger Gurira, a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at Grinnell College (both parents later joined the staff of University of Wisconsin–Platteville). Her parents moved to the United States from Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, in 1964. She is the youngest of four siblings; Shingai and Choni are her sisters and Tare, her brother, 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, after the country gained independence.
She attended high school at Dominican Convent High School. Afterwards, she returned to the United States to study at Macalester College, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Gurira also earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting, from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
Gurira taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
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. 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, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress. 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.
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.
In January 2015, Familiar, a play written by Gurira and directed by Rebecca Taichman, opened at Yale Repertory Theatre. 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 family and friends of hers.
In 2015, Lupita Nyong'o starred in Gurira's play, Eclipsed (2009), Off-Broadway at The Public Theater. It was announced that the play would move to Broadway in 2016 at the John Golden Theatre. 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, and is about how they deal with this difficult situation. The play was inspired by a photograph of female fighters and their tale of survival. It starred Saycon Sengbloh, Akosua Busia, Lupita Nyong'o, Zainab Jah and Pascale Armand and was directed by Liesl Tommy.
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." Eclipsed was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, and won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Play.
Film and television
Gurira starred in the drama film The Visitor (2007), for which she won Method Fest Independent Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has appeared in the films Ghost Town (2008), 3 Backyards, (2010) My Soul to Take (2010) and Restless City (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 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, in its third season. Gurira plays Michonne, a relentless, katana-wielding character who joins a close-knit group in an apocalyptic world. Together, they are forced to relentlessly fight flesh-eating zombies and certain of the few surviving humans, some of whom are even more diabolical and dangerous than the zombies themselves. Gurira had to learn how to ride horses for the series, which she enjoyed because it was a physical challenge.
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 as a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States. In June 2013, Gurira won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.
Gurira played rapper Tupac Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, in All Eyez on Me (2017), a biopic about the rap star. She then starred in Marvel's film Black Panther, which was released in February 2018. She played Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther, and received critical acclaim for her performance. Gurira reprised Okoye in Avengers: Infinity War, which was released in April of the same year.
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. 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. In 2016, Gurira partnered with Johnson & Johnson in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Gurira is a Christian and lives in Los Angeles, though she regularly spends time in New York City. She speaks four languages: French, Shona, basic Xhosa, and English and stays physically fit through Pilates and cross training.
|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|
|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)|
|2017||All Eyez on Me||Afeni Shakur|||
|2018||Black Panther||Okoye||Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress|
People's Choice Awards for The Action Movie Star of 2018
Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best On-Screen Team
|Avengers: Infinity War||Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best Fight|
|2020||Godzilla vs. Kong||Filming|
|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"|
|2009||Law & Order||Courtney Owens||Episode: "Fed"|
|2010||American Experience||Sarah Steward||Episode: "Dolley Madison"|
|2010||Lie to Me||Michelle Russo||Episode: "Exposed"|
|2012–present||The Walking Dead||Michonne||79 episodes|
|2017||Robot Chicken||Michonne (voice)||Episode: "The Robot Chicken Walking Dead Special: Look Who’s Walking"|
|2005||In the Continuum||Abigail, et al.||Playwright|
|2009||Joe Turner's Come and Gone||Martha Pentecost||Broadway acting debut at the Belasco Theatre.|
|2009||Eclipsed||Playwright; New York premiere in the 2015-2016 season at The Public Theater transferred to Broadway|
|2011||Measure for Measure||Isabella||Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.|
|2015||Familiar||Playwright; Commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre; New York premiere in the 2014-15 season at Playwright's Horizons.|
Works or publications
- 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
|2006||Obie Award||Special Citation||In the Continuum||Won|||
|Outer Critics Circle Awards||Outstanding Off-Broadway Play||Nominated|||
|John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award||Won|
|2007||Helen Hayes Awards||Best Lead Actress, Non-Resident||Won|||
|2008||Gotham Award||Best Ensemble Cast||The Visitor||Nominated|||
|Boston Society of Film Critics Award||Best Cast||Nominated|
|Method Fest||Best Supporting Actress||Won|||
|2012||Satellite Award||Best Cast – Television Series||The Walking Dead||Won|||
|Whiting Awards||Writing in Drama||The Convert||Won|||
|2013||Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award||Best Writing||Nominated|||
|Eyegore Awards||Best Ensemble Cast Award||The Walking Dead||Won|||
|Chlotrudis Awards||Best Actress||Mother of George||Nominated|||
|2014||Black Reel Award||Best Actress||Won|||
|Best Breakthrough Performance||Nominated|||
|American Black Film Festival Hollywood Awards||Best Actress||Nominated|||
|2016||NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series||The Walking Dead||Nominated|||
|Saturn Award||Best Supporting Actress on Television||Won|||
|Tony Award||Best Play||Eclipsed||Nominated|||
|Lilly Awards||Outstanding Playwriting||Won|||
|Drama Desk Award||Sam Norkin Award||Won|||
|Lucille Lortel Awards||Outstanding Play||Nominated|||
|ImageNation Revolution Awards||Revolution Award for Artistic Excellence||Won|||
|Outer Critics Circle Awards||Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play||Familiar||Nominated|
|Black Girls Rock! Award||Star Power Celebrant||Herself||Won|||
|2017||Saturn Awards||Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series||The Walking Dead||Nominated|||
|2018||Best Supporting Actress||Black Panther||Won|||
|Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series||The Walking Dead||Nominated|
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The complete text of Danai Gurira's tumultuous journey into Zimbabwe's colonial history. Plus: a conversation with the playwright by Tim Sanford.
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