As Hollywood continues to grapple with its diversity problem, actors of color push forward to do the necessary work, or as Viola Davis put it after her SAG win, Black creatives will continue to “find a way to be excellent.”
Against the backdrop of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Vanity Fair rolled out its annual Hollywood Portfolio issue and some of our favs made the list.
In addition to Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o and Gugu Mbatha-Raw appear alongside vets like Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton on Vanity Fair’s gorgeous cover shot by famed photog Annie Leibovitz.
Beyond the cover, Leibovitz photographed of the actresses in intimate, often striking profiles.
VF on Viola Davis: Justice delayed isn’t always justice denied, at least not where show business is concerned. For an impermissibly long time Viola Davis has been delivering supporting performances that pack an outsize wallop, maximizing her screen time not through showy flourishes or scene-stealing gambits but by investing every moment as if it has a lifetime of experience behind it, putting serious money on every beat, often undercutting the solemnity with sly inflection. (She provided the emotional core to the blurring motion of Michael Mann’s techno-thriller Blackhat.) No matter the role or circumstance, her characters are always to be reckoned with, and the consistent high caliber of her work (Doubt, The Help) raises the question “Why is someone this great not getting bigger standing?” And now, after too long, she is, starring in the ABC series How to Get Away with Murder as the criminal-law professor who mind-games her student disciples like a mentor from an Iris Murdoch novel. Next major sighting: Suicide Squad, a DC Comics all-star howdy-do, where she attempts to reform super-villains by giving them something constructive to do: save the world.
VF on Gugu Mbatha-Raw: “Gugu” is short for “Gugulethu,” which is Zulu for “Our Pride,” and if, as some Jungian analysts believe, destiny and identity are kerneled in one’s name, well, here you go—what more proof is needed? Pride defines the aura of her performances, an observant bearing that occupies its own quiet place, even in the frantic thick of a phantasmagoria such as the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. Born in Oxford, England, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Mbatha-Raw began her climb on popular series such as MI-5 and Doctor Who, achieving first-class status on the movie screen with starring roles in Belle, a drama set in the 18th century about the mixed-race daughter of an admiral in the Royal Navy and her anomalous place in the drawing rooms of the wigged aristocracy, and Beyond the Lights, a pop-music romance about a superstar for whom success is a gilded cage. She also teamed with Will Smith inConcussion, the sports procedural and moral inquiry into the spate of brain injuries in the N.F.L. produced by heavy-impact helmet-to-helmet head butts and the league’s effort to look the other way. There’s no looking the other way when she’s on-screen.
VF on Lupita Nyong’o: Only three feature-length movies she has and yet possess us she does, as Yoda might say. Of those three, one could be categorized as kinda so-so (Non-stop, where she played a flight attendant while Liam Neeson went through his dour heroics), but the other two were sonic booms. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Nyong’o made her motion-picture debut as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s unsparing, unrelenting 12 Years a Slave, a portrait of pain, desperation, fortitude, and beatitude that enthralled critics and earned her the Academy Award for best supporting actress. Her incandescence on the red carpet during this 2013 awards season—when she also collected supporting-actress noms from BAFTA, the Screen Actors Guild, and those crazy cats at the Golden lobes—established her place in a new constellation about to form. Last year, Nyong’o joined the embattled heavens as Maz Kanata, pirate queen, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that little movie you may have heard of that all the Jedis have been talking about at the dojo. She will almost certainly trip the lightsaber fantastic in the force awakenings ahead.
To read the rest of the profiles go to the Vanity Fair website.