You can spend years in the game, but all it takes is one special role to launch your career on a larger and more meaningful platform to a whole new set of potential fans. Viola Davis found it on How to Get Away with Murder, Taraji P. Henson’s role was Cookie on Empire and for today’s honoree Danai Gurira…she might have gotten her big break on the record-breaking Marvel film, Black Panther.

Danai Gurira at South African premiere of Black Panther via Danai Gurira’s Instagram @danaigurira, retrieved 3/6/18

In the film, Gurira plays the role of General Okoye, the fearless leader of the Dora Milaje; an elite group of female warriors that protect the leaders of Wakanda. Her character embodies a sense of power, courage, and ferocity that demands the attention of viewers watching, much like fellow Wakandan Princess Shuri did with her humor, and Nakia for her love for the Black Panther himself.

The level of badassness in which Gurira exudes seems to be innate or well-rehearsed; almost as if she’s had years of experience…but it’s because she has.

Danai Gurira, the youngest of four siblings, spent the first few years of her life in Iowa, before her family returned to ZImbabwe. As the daughter of academics (her mother, a librarian and father, a chemistry professor), she was encouraged to find her passion, which she eventually did in sports and drama. However, at the time of her return, Zimbabwe had only been three years out of colonization, resulting in a system that was for the most part, still colonized. Case in point: most of the books in her syllabus consisted of Western authors. The representation of African authors was something she had not been exposed to until she returned to the states as a student at Macalester College in Minnesota (she later received her MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts), and the lack of it was something she carried with her into adulthood and career as a playwright, where she tries to incorporate her roots in most of her plays, including In The Continuum, The Convert (2012), Familiar (2012) and Eclipsed, which was the first to have a black director, cast, and creative team.

Danai Gurira as Michonne on The Walking Dead via Danai Gurira’s Instagram @danaigurira, retrieved 3/6/18

And that only explains her work behind the scenes…because she’s also been grinding on screen as well. Danai has starred in films The Visitor and Mother of George and appeared in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Life on Mars, and Law & Order, as well as the HBO drama series Treme. Most notably, she plays the role of Michonne on the hit series The Walking Dead as and starred as Afeni Shakur in the Tupac inspired film, All Eyez on Me.

In other words, she’s not new to this; she’s true to this— just as true as she is to her work in activism. Gurira is the co-founder and Executive Artistic Director of Almasi Arts Inc., an organization dedicated to continuing arts education in Zimbabwe. She’s also the founder of Love Our Girls, a hub dedicated to ending gender discrimination and oppression.

Danai Gurira has been on her grind for quite some time and with all the attention she’s currently getting from her role as General Okoye (aka Essence Black Women in Hollywood Award); it’s exciting to see what more she’ll contribute to this world!!

Written By: Sweenie Nicole


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