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Danai Gurira
Danai Gurira 2017.jpg
Gurira at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con
Born
Danai Jekesai Gurira

(1978-02-14) February 14, 1978 (age 41)
EducationMacalester College (BA)
New York University (MFA)
OccupationActress, playwright
Years active2004–present

Danai Jekesai Gurira (/dəˈnɡʊˈrɪərə/; born February 14, 1978) is an American actress, of Zimbabwean descent, and playwright best known for her starring roles as Michonne on the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead (2012–present) and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Gurira is also the playwright of the Broadway play Eclipsed, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ In Conversation with Danai Gurira
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  • ✪ 8 Crazy Facts About Danai Gurira Movies, Figure, Net Worth, Black Panther
  • ✪ Danai Gurira has Standards | BREAKING BIG | PBS
  • ✪ 'The Walking Dead' Star Danai Gurira on Michonne's Future

Transcription

[music] ... More than 10 years ago or so when you wrote "In The Continuum" and it was a graduate acting school project out of NYU, as I recall. How did that happen? We have this thing. Tisch grad acting is a conservatory, like 18 people per year, and the astounding Zelda Fichandler who's now retired but, when I was there... She had created this amazing thing called Free Play, which they still do, which is when in your third year, in your final semester the beginning half. They let you do your own thing. They kind of let you loose, the entire class. You can take over everything - the studios, the rooms, whatever. Do whatever you need to do. You can be a producer, you can be a writer, you can be an actor. You can dowhatever you want for that one slot and so of course I've been yearning for this time period. I thought it was an amazing concept, because once again it allows you to have autonomy as an artists and to feel your own creative power and because of course before that we being larger prescribed rules to do, which is great. We're learning how to step into the professional realm, but you want that. You want that experience of creating your own thing from nothing and so myself and the other black girl in my class, Nikkole Salter from Howard, we decided to create. I've been creating little pieces throughout my time there that really connected to one of my heart was which was telling African women's stories. So, they let you do these things called sharings every year, another brilliant Zelda Fichandler concept, which is like the beginning of every year when we come back for the new semester. We all get together in the one of the you know studio theaters and each person gets up there and does two pieces of their liking. So I would always get up and do these little monologues I have been creating. So when I was trying to decide, I knew I was going to do a story about African women, but I didn't know what it was going to be. Nikkole said "do you want to do something about African women and HIV. Because I've been noticing that you've been telling those types of stories in your sharing, so that's what you're going to do right?" and I hadn't decided that I was going to do, so... I was like "Thank you, yeah." well I just came across this horrifying statistic about African-American women and HIV which is that it was the number one killer of women aged 25 to 34. That's my age group and I don't even know these stories. So how about we do this together? So we're just going to do two kind of one-woman shows back to like side by side by side and then one of our teachers did throw together at the same time and so that's how "In the continuum" sort of starting to get bored and we started started find parallels all these will never meet we started to find parallels in their stories like they're both pregnant and we go from the beginning of a day for them of a weekend for them from the first just before the gets told their diagnosis to just as they attempt their first their disclosure to their partners so that was kind of the framework we created and then we performed several characters we both hate we both hate that sort of we know there's one person shows where you're talking to the audience we both up or that so we both knew that we wanted to do uh like what we call mono dialogues which I don't know if I'd seen that before nothing created it I just don't know where else I'd seen it and so what we did was it was it was the character that that is video is being spoken to this is in there but the character that speaking is speaking largely in a mono like a monologue type of way so it's it's active dialogue but you only see one half and so we did that we both transformed into she transformed into five characters i transformed into six just the characters that are protagonists are encountering over that weekend and then at the end they sort of have parallel moments of an attempt to schools and so we created it and did it for free play they're just got a lot of attention from just people who are just believe in what we're trying to do and so it got hit with another alone would create a small collective out in the Bronx and he puts on his stage with another show from a year before us and they're one of our teachers solve community stuff sometimes it's all that you the village or in one of our teachers brought the head of perry street do you know my name is the primary States and lindsay and when Andrew watched it said okay I've got to put this on a stage downtown and so he then figured out a way to put it on his main stage which is at 59e59 street here twice a week and I was it three times three times a week but it had to be on the same stages play that was being done there that was starring like Nathan Lane and and had a huge do teen in the middle this so we kind of had to use it and kind of use it to divide she's from sent from Los Angeles so her character was a girl from the 19 year old from South Central Los Angeles my character was a 27 year old 26 year old woman from you know how that is in Bob way so we kind of use the guillotine is the sort of like separating the time their two world but yeah that's a minute and then he it managed to actually manage to actually get to the point where they got a lot of press around it and they got a lot of people to come review it and then when the new york times review that the way they did it just slips it's kind of snow balled that's how it created felt how strongly we do recommend people that are planning a career in the theater to go to graduate school as you did nyu tisch other graduate schools along those lines as I said I'm a child of academic it's ok it's a trick it's not it's not an easy as for me because I don't I don't I don't like to describe one answer to other people's lives I have astounding artist friends who had no formal training one of my favorite actors in the world he's in London I grew up with him in Zimbabwe and he's extremely successful in london in the theater world he's a he's going to be the first he's about to play amadeuz huh at the nationalism me the black a bday is he just played the first black Iago that's not my best tell us his name his name is he did he can talk to you guys Lucien Lucien sumati as a mother and we grew up together is bob was so like he's so successful he has no formal training so for me to say there's only one way but he's also absurdly talented I'm not that I needed to go to school so it really i think it really depends on you and what I felt I needed it I felt that I needed to be in a conservatory situation where i was deeply immersed where I was in a time period of being an a coup when I was being it was in my apprenticeship i know we are in a generation where folks want they want it fast they wanted as fast as they can send a text you know they wanted this fast you know and then it's just certain things are not ever going to move that fast certain things do need everything I think in terms of your craft you need a time of apprenticeship and a time when you submit yourself to that where you're actually willing to to not be out there and looking to shine but you're willing to withdraw from that concern completely and develop the innards of the craft and find your joy in the craft which does not involved outside validation or outside accreditation it just involves internal development of your artistic voice and your understanding of this art form and that you know that's the academic and me talking but it's not it's also just what it takes to you know to begin your journey as an artist and to create the right foundation so I would say it really does depend on the individual i would also say there are tons of different types i would say you cannot avoid an apprenticeship but I say there are tons of different types of apprenticeships like Lucy and had several types of a pension and he understood it's also the spirit of the thing do you understand that you are still a student hmm do you understand that you are learning and you are developing a craft and that you have to submit to that that process versus Here I am watch me shine which can happen a lot in the super operation you know what I mean how do I become a star thing which i think is death to the art form mm you you mentioned finding the joy in the craft but should they also prepare themselves for the pain of it all joy and pain are not mutually exclusive joy is not happiness joy is just knowing you're in the right place during the right thing that can involve pain so the question is it's all in pain is also deeply connected to where you were you put your expectations so if your expectations where I'm going to walk in there there doesn't gonna think about most things that you know that might you might get some pain of all the other side of that that didn't happen but if it does involve a constant desire to like that's have done so many auditions in this on this floor so when I walked in there I'm like flashbacks and the but a lot of it is walking into a room which you will lock in the largely almost all of you will can't do many many many times is what you choose to do in that room do you choose to look for to be validated or do you choose to enjoy the fact that you are a performer and this is just another venue to do it so that type of mindset I think can combat a lot of the the pain concepts or the pain issues that come and there will be many disappointments will be things you really really really really really want and you won't get I don't say that everybody's like I have no I don't have a crystal ball but that's largely what our field entails as a writer there's also a pain of the deer and the tyranny of the blank page that you have to face this reality of it right you know how do you overcome that when you're staring at a blank page and perhaps inspiration doesn't necessarily come right away how do you keep at it well i always start a story I never plan to write to be a playwright or to write it just kind of happened and it happened because i couldn't find the stories i want to told and I couldn't find the stories I I thought should be told so I started to do it myself but um I always start a narrative i always start the creation of a narrative with a burden on my heart there's something that I need that I feel needs to be said something a story I often start from a place of outrage I'm more upset a few times the last year because I do I mean on time not not familiar so much but definitely clips and the even to some extent and definitely my fault my other play out in the continuum and to some extent the convert its really starting from place of this just need why isn't the story being told like why don't know anything about this and and then because I'm a storyteller because i'm in this field this is my way of getting it done so it's for me there's always a burden on me to tell a specific story it's a specific story that needs to be told I don't go to the blank page and go what should I write that's never been my issue my issue is get that done get that then you gotta get that story written and that's where i got stories backed up you know but then the then the other issue is the issue i feel i come to is how it's the how how do I tell that story and what angle do i commented from that's where I can get a caught up in in the process and often for me perhaps because I'm an academic support I go to research research always tell me where to start from where what I have to find you know even in this play you know as dire circumstances are I had to go to the research and I had to find what I found fascinating I had to find what i found insane crazy and interesting and then I and that's where I'm where my imagination will populate the most that's where the characters become the most alive where I'm the most engaged I can't write from a place of woe is me I must write this dire tail I have to write from place where I feel joy to work these characters and I feel of course all of that horror and outrage specifically about what these women were going through but it has to be connected to a sense of joy about them otherwise they're going to be really uninteresting characters when you wrote eclipse did you think you would act in it as well never never never second not for a second when you started out writing place did you always right accident continue I was like I don't have someone else do you like it's very interested me and acting like we have such interesting relationship because every time I'm willing to try to just kind of put acting aside it comes back and says we'll get back in time and I'm like wait I was about to just right for one and I'm you know it's a very installation by happy with my writing it I'm very clear on it though I haven't written for yeah i mean i have but not in a way that it's out there so i don't know if my that really simple shift but in terms of how I see you number one of my mandate as a creator of works is to give opportunities to women and people that you often don't see getting to be more of a narrative so I don't need that to be me hmm I you know my name is on the marquee I'm the writer you know I don't need to then start to out one of the things over to one of the things I really enjoy it and in my just adore about the process of creating work is when some astounding new talent walks in the room and I can give her an opportunity that gives me great joy so like I wouldn't want to be like I have to be in it and like take and hog up a spot this is not necessary people see me act like it's not I don't need to then take someone else's thought that I could give someone and you may not know this but in fact repeater lu lu nayan go was an understudy in the yayo production of about eclipse yeah many many years ago in 2008 i believe when it started at nine to that we did a production heal and she was just coming into her first year there and so they assigned their grad students as understudies to our to the main productions on their major stage so she was the assigned understudy for the role she's currently yeah she you know we thank god we are so nice to her and I don't know back to reality show fighting over her and and all the African along from from tissue encouraged to go get her to you to dish failed we did compare she was at yelled when we walked in and you know we just all became all a lot of the girls like the girl plays wife number three pregnant and the one who plays wife number two gun they both just give quick quickly visualize I'm they were both in that year production and so they've all been very good buddies since then and at least all the same director directed that production so it's been it's been a bit of a family since 2000 the police will force you to understudy any of the rules which one would you choose to understudy my mom my mom ya got that one yeah but number two gotten she likes to me she was like you know I understand her i I really understand her and and and maybe there's a bit of a fighter and me and that's why I think I haven't had to use it like that but then I think that's also why I was attracted to be shown oddly there's a parallel there who were significant mentors on your in your career who really helped you along the way and in what way were they able best to help you uh yeah I'll definitely say Jim Calder who's an unsung hero i guess no one will know his name but he he is one of my teachers is always going to be a teacher right he's one of my teachers from tish and he has been a monumental in just support and in keeping me alive as an artist and the way I need to be alive as an artist and grounding me and so when I you know often i still go to him when i create a new piece of work and he's like just say it all for me and I'm like we don't have the time and he wants to hear me speak the characters because he knows i birthed them and so I know exactly what they sound like and then he can feel the world more and so I literally tend to read my place to gym and and i remember i wrote the first draft of the clips and he's like i'm bored you know and i'm like like i knew i had i had to throw and I through that entire draft out he said the only thing i like about that draft is that she was hiding under the tab at the top so I kept that pepper and then I threw everything out and just sort of read the whole thing and that's another thing that he taught me was the willing the idea that you're your creative capacities are endless so you don't have to be scared to talk about what you think is your best idea mmm more will come and they'll fit the narrative more because i think some of the worst pieces of work you can create or watch are the ones that are just paste it together ideas because they often like was a great idea I could lose it yeah but it doesn't fit and it doesn't serve and then allow for cohesion and it just looks like an idea so you have to be willing to throw out and i decided to throw up tons of my ideas for for familiar definitely my most complicated birth but um yeah it was he's definitely one and then another one is a little knowledge who I remember when I was good finally we are both writing these places exact same time it's just coincidence because really when it came out 2009 as well and the moon came out here and and the clip was coming out regionally but is that the exact same time and so she told me I was kind of annoyed because I couldn't find any like real developmental support money and I was like a really kind of starting out playwright and so of course I was broke and so I was just kind of like and now I know theatre like after the continuum will just like help me get the Liberia or something you know or or Commission me or she was like you don't need that like you don't know she's like I went to cause she just going to the Congo to the islands i want to come with my own dime you don't need that just get figure out how to do it and had and support your vision you don't have to take care of anyone else's ideas if you haven't been commissioned anyway and there's something about her saying that was which gave me such freedom and autonomy over my own vision and also that thing you get word which is the depth to an artist which is I'm not getting what i should be getting that was tossed out forever once she said that so she's a very important mentor to me and I still go to her a lot for advice and you got a research grant did you not at some point anyone you know thank you TCG but it was tiny and I thought I was a little like this and that you know it's one of those ones where they give it to you up front they give you a tiny portion up front and then they say bring us receipts for the rest of your life like I don't have the money to get nothing ok ok so one of my friends said why don't you have a rent party mmm and I was like how embarrassing mmm but I did it and then they said we will match whatever you make and so they did and back literally how I got to Liberia you know what a rent party is right it's it's a Harlem institution but I don't know he's like you know the term comes from it comes from Harlan when you couldn't pay the rent you know it you would have a party you would you make gumbo or macaroni and cheese or whatever everybody would come give a dollar and you could get the rent money that's reasonable you know I don't know people just people contributed and that actually helped me be able to go did you find your mentors who did they find you while in school I i guess you know Jim colder was that he teaches commedia dell'arte and so his classes so it's so amazing in terms of how you teach you so much more than that or maybe that's just what it is but it's so amazing in terms of learning not only the things that your own blocks but he's an absurdly perceptive so you can really get it all the things but I was I was scared to walk into the classroom like I just like you've got with me it's like literally walking in there with like I don't know what this man's gonna do to me i don't know what he's gonna feed me that i know i need to get rid of I don't know what demons he's gonna isolate you know that I'm not willing to let go of like I just don't know what you know - I just know every time I walked in there was going to walk out different than when i walked in i'll be sitting there with all the rest of the class but don't call me today just that I'm not ready to change today but like you know he's just he's amazing that way and then he also was he could see me that I needed to get back to my voice is an African so he was like do it Shawn I do it and do it in your language I'm gonna get English student you know and english english is actually is my first language but getting into the the rhythms of my people and him giving me that freedom to do that in those classrooms was invaluable to I think my artistic voice as a whole and you were available to that you were available to that challenge well yeah not that he gives you a choice but yeah because I asked this question I think of a blonde eprice once when I was patently in terms of finding mentors and he said right to them anybody that's on your radar right to them he wrote to Stephen Sondheim and got an answer back so if you think of any artist who you want to emulate or want advice from right to them you'll find that they're very very available you mentioned that familiar was a difficult birth why familiar is basically it's a minor player came out earlier this year and it was that year last year it basically is on the in in in a concept you think it would be my easiest burn because it's it's inspired by my own family it's not it's a Zimbabwean family in the Midwest the weekend of their daughter's wedding you think that's pretty cut and dried but um it was very difficult because there was so many things that can go into that play and there's so many issues of identity and and the immigrant experience but also just the American family experience and you know all these different things that that I could play with and I had too many toys and they didn't necessarily make for the most muscular play narrative so it was always about what to cut and how to muscle that the plot and it took two productions I've never quite taken two productions usually by the by the time and I into the thick of it with the first production I'm like that that's it that's what i meant it took two productions only once we did it again here in New York was I able to go that's it and so that was the first time it had taken me two productions to really get to the grid and the decor best form of of a piece of work for me is there any specific moment in eclipse or the convert or in the continued room or in familiar where you said ah that's it where that was the breakthrough yes this is what it's about and therefore you know what to cut them what to include uh yeah yeah all in different ways all totally indifferent would say that the video clip since they just saw since you just saw was there a moment when you thought ah now I know what to include what to cut out because you were saying with familiar there's so much material there you're not sure how to edit or go about editing the editing process right it clips did it clips have a particular moment i'm not sure if i can think of eclipse moment I mean it was there were certain things that became really clear to me like there are no men in this place yeah that's and that was just clear from the get-go that that was there were certain you wouldn't they were always going to be an offstage voice or talk about yeah how did you arrive at that it was just clear it was just a clear understanding of what to me storytelling is submitting to a story the more you submit to it the more it lets you know what it is you become more of a vessel as you submit and submitting for me also has to involve immersion I have to be so immersed in these voices in this world and these people so that i'm allowing it to come to me I'm not imposing on on it and that's what it looks like a bunch of ideas so is i think it is quite a spiritual process to create a narrative and I for me it was definitely uh there was something very clear as I started to do the research and say I'm going to tell the story i'm trying to figure out how it was very clear to me it just became very clear what I didn't want to do what I did not want to do the idea of putting a man what having a man walk onto that stage every it just it was just wrong wrong wrong like it was clear my instincts and my understanding the vision in the need of the story the need of the story is the women's voices of war never heard the needs of the stories you can make men who started Wars and ended wars but you can rarely name women who were in the war as well dealing with some of the most vulnerable atrocities and also helping to stop it but you you never hear about them we never know their names so the idea of how about me clear the stage for this one little story we allow those voices that are often blocked eclipse to be the ones that get full full face and voice I wanted to convert that war narrative where's that other side we never see and where those voices that we never hear and so putting only women on there and making sure that that was clear that their expert experience was what we were specifically and intimately connected to was very important to me and that involved getting rid of the guys you was the political activist in the play one of the last ones to be added or whether she was actually I went to Liberia knowing that I was going to write about those women in that camp and I needed to learn more about that experience because i was like that mother like what in the world that these men do that me put these women and these compounds keep them at that and i wanted i wanted to get into their stories because God knows they're the last people you hear from but then i said i came across the piece women of Liberia who are I think intensely unsung heroes these women did stop the war they created the country where the first woman president was able to be elected and still is the only woman president on the African continent and they were amazing with how they did it there's a great documentary any of your instant documentaries called pray the devil back to hell and it really documents what those women did and it is crazy and they didn't lift a weapon they walked around those white outfits you see these women have on stage and they were they did some astounding work to stop that war and walked into those compounds and talk those guys down and went and in <month> February </month> the peace treaties we're only six percent of women to this day are ever included in peace treaty meetings by the way so whenever you hear about a war being discussed and how they're going to end a conflict just know that only six percent of the people in the room are women and that those women would intrude on that process and say hello you need to hear what happened to the women into the children and you hear from us and they were amazing you see the documentation in that documentary of whatever the dogs she just came into the dedication we do dedication at the end of every show she just came into the dedication the other night the woman from that documentary who's now a nobel peace prize winner m3 of harm but so when i came across them when i got the liberia because i didn't know about them here I was coming across all the other stuff but not them when I got to Liberia and I met them I said oh god I've got to figure out a way to put them in this narrative because this is just too and it's to instant amazing what they are I did put a very broken woman in as their representation a woman who was not the woman who did the dedication the other day but who is a woman trying to get there and who has a lot of her own demons but a lot of women from totally know they had so many they did have issues in this they did amazing work and they kept their cohesion but it was very complicated was very complex because they were dealing with the issue of them you know some of them were coming for their people don't realize this there is class in Africa big-time their class differences in Africa and the idea of woman like her versus those girls in the village I mean that's a very different status and the women a lot of the women coming together for the peace movement work women from very different statuses and so the idea of them coming together wasn't an amazing feat and you're seeing some of those conflicts that the character in the panda in the play has with you know the fact that she's right down how she can't just quite just sit on the floor of that , you know she's not from this world and she's trying to you know there's a part of her trying to really be to transform as a part of trying to find your child and at the end of it all she realizes these are all her children with the noble Nobel laureate are lame on Maui yeah yeah fantastic yeah that's just great I'm gonna throw this open to questions but before we do you mentioned that rage was a good motivating factor elementary outrage yes and and I think that's an interesting avenue to explore oh you have to isolate your outrage as an artist or else why you doing it right and i think that's married to social activism which I think maybe this is how I'm wired so take it or leave it would you say would you suggest that part of one black and female lat I don't think I actually with with you would you suggest that part of cultivating this creative energy in this creative force and I didn't want that for my just what i just said because a person I've been working with I've been blessed to work with lately is bono and he were you know he created the one campaign and he's outraged you know I think you're paying attention you're outraged there are a ton of things be outraged about regardless of the demographic you know there are tons of things that it doesn't matter what gender or race you came out as if you're paying attention to the world you're in and you you you are you connect with the heart of with your own heart your humanity you're going to find your outrage what about personal rage in family in domestic relationships is sure that's outrage - because that is still a universal constants in the universal issue whatever you're doing with your family trust their other people dealing with that - well there's tons of crises in those relationships that I think deserve exploration and great plays have explored them but there's still more to explore course there always is speaking of great place with great plays inspired you I know that you made your Broadway debut in august wilson's Joe Turner has come and gone I love him as a oh I love his literature and I'll i use him to get usually I use him to overcome writer's block because not because I'm ever trying to write like him or because i want to you know do anything like him but it's because he it is so clear firstly I I admire what he's accomplished accomplished but secondly because he accomplished his vision I think O'Neill said he was going to do the same thing and I think he got 22 out of the nine he said he was going to do but August did all 10 and the other thing is that he his his goal it was so clear his vision to create take his people and make them epic and make them larger than life characters though you wouldn't think perhaps the world is that as it is currently structured we would never think twice about some dudes hanging out on the corner and you know pittsburgh but he he he made them epic and made them something that the world of the world had to acknowledge is great dramatic characters and great dramatic stories and he made the experience of the african-american on the soil great and dramatic and epic he didn't make it that way he just he put it on the page that way it is that and so that the spirit of what he was doing is something that is so clear when i read his work and I sometimes I need to connect to the spirit of what I'm doing which is you know the same thing but in a totally different way and so yeah I use him to so it was very it's very it was perfect that he was who i debuted on broadway as and it was playing I was in but also I always trust and know that when I dig into his work there there's just there's no bottom to it like you're going this is just a huge creative spiritual exploration you're actually trying to crack into his coat because you know there's a code in how he's written that and what the rhythms are and all of that and and so that's what you learn for as an artist your providers like that he's definitely someone I respect in my two or three other writers that contain note that same uh you know funnily enough my dead white guy you really like I love check off I love it listen and I'll of shock and you know i think especially in person and Shaw were actually feminist and uh you know definitely my sort of code tips and sean is kind of in the convert its structured and shady and play and you know and it's sort of someone inspired by Pygmalion but you know I sort of started from there and then it became its whole other thing is i submitted to the narrative I was like okay something different but it's you know it was picked up actually even by press that this is they said they were seeing instant as well but I mean it was definitely it's definitely those guys I had that I i find i love the structure of what they do and what they were trying to do i mean sometimes i watch i watch dogs out last week and I was like you know I was like are you know there's so many powerful things in there and their ways that I would never tell the story in there as well but I so respect the spirit of the way he tells the story and then of course I lovely nottage and and I'm always in deep off whatever she does and i'm always keen to see what she does next was there any debate I just did a changing because I'm gonna throw it open to questions but was there any debate in your mind about taking on this shown because she was going to take you away from riding or as you made you a better writer eventually we'll listen I moved to Los Angeles to actually pursue my writing and then the first week I was there alone comes Michonne and I said that's what my acting career does to me the regular but um it you know i love the character and i love the world and I really the thing that I knew the thing this is what i always do when I deal with the role i just i'm just i just took on another role that I can't talk about yet but it's it's a thing that I i always do I always have to do the heart check the heart and it has to be that my heart really want to tell that story like that has to be where I land and and once i land there I'm like okay that's that's what I have to do and the heart that we threw for Michonne it was my heart was just I was watching i was researching her i connected her to my market and then i read i want some the episode was too scared to watch them before i got my heart and I mean I've draws auditioning on damn it after what shone out going to scare me but like I watched it and then I was like so drawn in by the work of the artists from everything from the sounding cast the astounding writing and the the whole art design of it everything was just it just worked you know it's like what my teacher says that Jim Calder says you know it accomplished what it was proposing and and so I remember watching the scene of these actors a lot of them came from theater like at the amazing Andrew Lincoln and and the the amazing john byrne fallen and sarah wayne callies they're often theater and I was watching a one of those scenes from you know but all of them are sounding but I was saying those are some theater people in there and I was this like and suddenly this thing in my gut was like I want this job or whatever you brought that up from you but I just knew I had to be part of it from that makes that feeling in my heart and my gut was just something I really wanted to be part of and I could see that they were really trying to tell a living story I could feel the intent I can feel the spirit of the thing and my heart wanted to be part of the spirit of that thing and that helps you make make make that yeah that's the thing I mean otherwise what am i doing it for the wise its ego otherwise it's something else but when it wasn't that hard engagement and you feel it right in your interest that's like and you feel a joy in the concept of being part of it like a joy from the side it's not about any of the outside of education about you and your connection to your to your you know to your guts to your to your heart let's start open to questions you got a lot of a month so let's start with you and just work our way around hi hi hi - research I guess the question for ya well I consider myself an African assist which means i completely completely a poor the concept of generalizing about Africa and so I I believe my put all my work must be authentic and accessible and I have to always find a way to do that because I it has to be worked at a Liberian will walk into and and find a full and and and and true to their world authentic to their experiences and it has to be a world also that people can hear and understand but I think sometimes people have been told that they have to dumb down the specifics of Africa to make it accessible and I completely reject that notion and I've done it in all the work of the the first scene of eclipse is completely in Shona and we created i created in such a way around it was like they're going to get what's happening and i'll catch up but they'll get what's happening they'll see the drama will understand what they won't understand every word but they'll understand that there's something what's going on and they will catch up and it's better to be ahead of an audience then have them be head of you so um you know that to me the idea of dumbing down or so I love research I love going and discovering this place a new library was nothing like this is Bob way I grew up in Zimbabwe a new library was not there was no there's no connection to those two places people assume Africans the same there's no connection to Liberians and Bob we're not its look not in the way they speak not its history library was created by the united states mmm and that's the only country on the continent that was carved out and created conceived of perhaps colonized into what it was and all the rest of us for english-speaking countries were colonized by the British so it is they could we were on different the equator like we just we have nothing in common and so I enjoy that I enjoy think there's this whole other part of the content I do not know and i'm going to go learn about it and I'm going to learn about the essence and the spirit of how they speak of what they what they do what their culture isms are I'm gonna go celebrate those things on the page so yeah that involved everything involved tons and tons of reading tons of research tons of watching of documentaries and all types of things every single form of research i can find and of course the tons of interviews that i did when i was there i interviewed several women women from you know who we're going through what you saw on the screen on the stage peace with women who had been part of the peace movement women who are now who were not a part of any of our either of those things who are now like creating their own little movies and doing you know she was the one lady she was that she would do like a little dance number things in nightclubs when promoting like new energy drinks you know and I hang out with her and her friends and their party girls you know how with everybody and that was important you know I went with women's houses and they you know told me is the most harrowing experiences of their lives in and i SAT with girls and women out of town and they all just came up to me one by one and talked about the experiences specifically you see those three girls in the compound so yeah I had to hear their voices and and speak to them and and learn from them and then have asked them to ask me anything they wanted to ask because I believed I was but I felt like I was being invasive and they actually said you're actually doing something no one's ever bothered to do which is the ask me what happened to me no one's ever asked me which surprised me deeply there's another woman who helped me a great deal meet those women but she said the exchange is you teach my actors because she had a nonprofit that helps re-educate a nation that had been in war for 20 years and so even things like a consensus that people don't know what those were in the villages the idea of getting rid of polio they're still trying to do that the idea of you know how do you you know teach about hiv/aids all these different things and so they would have little many dramas they would do and she's like I'm so sick of what they do teach them something better and so i was i was teaching acting and playwriting and a lot of the names of the girls on stage came from which you here at the end of the play their names came from the women I the girls then when i was teaching acting and playwriting - so it was a very very multiple ranged experience and it needed to be that you know it had to be that are we here yes in the back laughing I'm glad you should have been yeah i talked with well really i just followed the i followed the characters you know it was it well two things on the macro side I do always intend to give a full meal when I put a story on the page so I'm not looking for anyone everyone expects to come to this plan and go through a dirt everyone expects comes back I'm going to take my medicine I'm going to eat all this raw kale and no I for myself and so that that's an expectation with the sort of store in the sort of topics in the continued had a ton of humor noon that's an expectation in the topics that I grapple with but it's not to me that's not dramatically interesting what's dramatically interesting is you go into so well what I'm trying to do on a macro is i'm trying to disarm an audience I want you to laugh I want you to enjoy yourselves I want you to get very connected to these characters to to actually enjoy their specificity and their personalities and their their multidimensionality and their complexity because those are the things i never see when I when people talk about women from the continent I never see that get explored and so I'm always looking to make sure that that happens and that often involves uh you know the idea that yeah they're going to be moments of humor and that long time they're not they're not trying to be funny there are like wife number three is not trying I'm just trying to do what makes her ugly in a real dire circumstance just trying to cope these are coping mechanisms she knows she's cute she liked to go on to her cuteness because it makes her feel good so what it's funny to her she this is the best way she can get to her day so it's really that sort of a balance of I have to get has to be character-driven you know they're fighting over the braids or whatever you know we're fine apple those are things that are then getting through the day and they're finding the survival isn't about and I'm repeating myself here so you know it's not some original quote I've said before but survival isn't about uh not forgotten about just laying down and and saying you know help me help me and that's why I pray all the most likely to continue the same thing that fucks around African women they're just laying around to help me help me no they're not they're surviving survival means you are still seeking to let your light shine in the most dire circumstances so you're still looking for that place that you can you can still live and breathe and find your joy and so that results in humorous moments in a narrative about something very dark but they're not trying to suggest nothing nestle themselves and darkness they're trying to stay light ok we have room for two more two more questions or two more minutes two more minutes okay all right I'll talk fast ok we'll take one on this side and one on this side of the gentleman in the back with advice you know the color Richard trying to succeed always uh well first I'd say you know I have to be honest I never thought of myself as someone trying to succeed in this industry I just thought of myself as a storyteller who have to tell stories who have to get stories out there and I had to figure out how to do it when they had to be done so I function from a burden on my heart I also function from the concept that there are many who have come before me who faced more dire circumstances than I do I think a lot of times we we lose context of where we are in the chain you know Cicely Cicely Tyson who came before me and she was feeling a part of stuff than ideal you know I mean you know a little horn or whoever else they came before us and they were dealing with you want to go all the way back all the way back there and tell me what the point of the matter is we are coming from a line of women minors and so don't come up here and say well with me with me there's no hope for me there there we have to navigate and we have to understand that we are probably going to be creating pads that have never been walked because that's who we are and there's something actually there's there's actually somewhat of a blessing in that you know because that there's there's something almost free you don't think I've got to try to be just like her don't want to be just like anybody we need your originality I think it's a mindset shift the idea of thing I have to try and succeed in this industry often means i have to try and cool and that's actually not as it's not a pathway to anything of a legacy or anything that is really going to inspire or inspire yourself or for nurture your own artistic voice mmm so I think the idea of nurturing your artistic voice of having a belief that there is a place for it but you're going to be navigating it a new is a mindset shift that I would deeply advised to the woman of color and the knowledge we just gotta know walk off the bat it's not gonna be easy if you think there's an easy route stepping into this there isn't for anybody there just isn't it's not going to be easy but you love it and the burden on your heart to get those stories out there to tell the story to put it out there have to supersede the need to be successful in this industry one more yes I'm so the ending I was like literally on the edge was there ever a time when you were deciding whether or not your mother know where they went or what how did you come to that point to have ashes sitting there trying to figure out okay well maybe she did this or like I think they should have done that you know was there ever a point where you like me I'm gonna tell the audience no i mean that that ending usually is funny my end things have to come to me early as do my titles it's all stuff in between that takes a little longer so yeah I mean it was clear to me I mean I want there was a time . i'd wanted to flash into like two years later because there's so many things that happen in terms of how well it don't happen for the rehabilitation post-conflict and that was what I was exacting to Liberia 2007 so I was meeting those women who were the route to you 24 years this was four years later they were still you know they had not been able to rebuild their lives and I was thinking about doing that but then I realized the most some of the the most muscular ending was to allow her to allow us to be left with that burden because what does become of a child of war and that's on us as a society to to make sure that how do we on a clip that sort of impending to two things before but that it the title yes all of the blocking blocking a liar yeah up I want to thank you before we leave two things two points you have a continuing arts education in Africa called a mossy electron mass Almasy which you can contribute to you can have a website is that there is no his website it's basically designed to announce the bobbin American so I'm always looking to there are tons of Africans and who out there who don't have the opportunities I get so it's that and I also think that Americans could benefit from exposure to the Afghan army and that all that a collaboration only results in good time at the collaborative arts is that is what it's called and Bob way in America it's called our masks the Arts Alliance and that's that's the name of the website I'm not see arts alliance . org and we do a lot of things we try to bring a lot of education in the arts to professionals people your age really trying to build up those who are really trying to grab voices that are just on the verge perhaps changing the world but they need opportunities they need the doors to be opened for them they need to to receive the training and it's very difficult from there so you know we help artists come here to get education had a couple of them a few of them now are you know have been accepted into graduate programs was just accept the new school 1 and use us see one is a community art a school and then we take Americans there to teach and train and we have fellowships and we don't have things like that but it's really about more I want more afterwards to be globally her and I don't want to be my friend great so that's that's it thank you so much

Contents

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).[1][2][3] Her parents moved from Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe to the United States, in 1964.[4] She is the youngest of four siblings; Shingai and Choni are her sisters and Tare, her brother,[2] 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,[5] after the country gained independence.[6]

She attended high school at Dominican Convent High School. Afterwards, she returned to the United States to study at Macalester College,[3] in Saint Paul, Minnesota, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.[4] Gurira also earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting, from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[7]

Career

Gurira taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.[2]

Theater

Gurira at the 2015 The Walking Dead Panel at San Diego Comic Con.
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.[4] 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,[8] 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 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.[9]

In 2009, Gurira made her acting debut on Broadway in August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone playing Martha Pentecost.[10]

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.[11]

In January 2015, Familiar, a play written by Gurira and directed by Rebecca Taichman, opened at Yale Repertory Theatre.[12] 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.[13]

In 2015, Lupita Nyong'o starred in Gurira's play, Eclipsed (2009), Off-Broadway at The Public Theater.[14] It was announced that the play would move to Broadway in 2016 at the John Golden Theatre.[15][16][17] 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.[18] The play was inspired by a photograph of female fighters and their tale of survival.[19] It starred Saycon Sengbloh, Akosua Busia, Lupita Nyong'o, Zainab Jah and Pascale Armand and was directed by Liesl Tommy.[20]

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."[21] Eclipsed was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, and won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Play.[22]

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,[23] in its third season.[24][25][26] Gurira plays Michonne, a relentless, katana-wielding character who joins a close-knit group in an apocalyptic world.[25][27] 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.[27] Gurira had to learn how to ride horses for the series, which she enjoyed because it was a physical challenge.[28]

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.[4] Gurira received critical acclaim for her performance as a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States.[29][30] In June 2013, Gurira won the Jean-Claude Gahd Dam award at the 2013 Guys Choice Awards.[31]

Gurira played rapper Tupac Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, in All Eyez on Me (2017), a biopic about the rap star.[32] 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.[33] Gurira reprised Okoye in Avengers: Infinity War, which was released in April of the same year, and will reprise her role again in Avengers: Endgame, released in 2019.

Activism

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, Gurira co-founded Almasi Arts Inc., an organization dedicated to continuing arts education in Zimbabwe.[3][34][35] Gurira currently serves as the Executive Artistic Director.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38][39] In 2016, Gurira partnered with Johnson & Johnson in the fight against HIV/AIDS.[40]

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.[41]

Personal life

Gurira is a Christian[2] and lives in Los Angeles,[42] though she regularly spends time in New York City.[43] She speaks four languages: French, Shona, basic Xhosa, and English[2] and stays physically fit through Pilates and cross training.[44]

Filmography

Film

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 Independent Film Award 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)
2017 All Eyez on Me Afeni Shakur [45][46]
2018 Black Panther Okoye Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
People's Choice Awards for The Action Movie Star of 2018
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best On-Screen Team
Avengers: Infinity War Nominated – MTV Movie Award for Best Fight
2019 Avengers: Endgame Post-production

Television

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"
2009 Law & Order Courtney Owens Episode: "Fed"
2010 American Experience Sarah Steward Episode: "Dolley Madison"
2010 Lie to Me Michelle Russo Episode: "Exposed"
2010–2011 Treme Jill Recurring (Seasons 1–2)
6 episodes
2012–present The Walking Dead Michonne Main role (Season 3–present)
84 episodes
2017 Robot Chicken Michonne (voice) Episode: "The Robot Chicken Walking Dead Special: Look Who’s Walking"

Stage

Year Title Role Notes
2005 In the Continuum Abigail, et al. Playwright
2009 Joe Turner's Come and Gone Martha Pentecost Broadway acting debut[47] at the Belasco Theatre.
2009 Eclipsed Playwright; New York premiere in the 2015-2016 season at The Public Theater[48] transferred to Broadway[49]
2011 Measure for Measure Isabella Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.[50]
2012 The Convert Playwright;[51]
2015 Familiar[13] 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

Year Award Category Work Result Ref
2006 Obie Award Special Citation In the Continuum Won [8]
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Off-Broadway Play Nominated [52]
John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award Won
2007 Helen Hayes Awards Best Lead Actress, Non-Resident Won [53]
2008 Gotham Award Best Ensemble Cast The Visitor Nominated [54]
Boston Society of Film Critics Award Best Cast Nominated
Method Fest Best Supporting Actress Won [55]
2012 Satellite Award Best Cast – Television Series The Walking Dead Won [56]
Whiting Awards Writing in Drama The Convert Won [11]
2013 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award Best Writing Nominated [57]
Eyegore Awards Best Ensemble Cast Award The Walking Dead Won [58]
Chlotrudis Awards Best Actress Mother of George Nominated [59]
2014 Black Reel Award Best Actress Won [60]
Best Breakthrough Performance Nominated [61]
American Black Film Festival Hollywood Awards Best Actress Nominated [62]
2016 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series The Walking Dead Nominated [63]
Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress on Television Won [64]
Tony Award Best Play Eclipsed Nominated [65]
Lilly Awards Outstanding Playwriting Won [66]
Drama Desk Award Sam Norkin Award Won [67]
Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Play Nominated [68]
TCG Gala Honoree Won [69]
ImageNation Revolution Awards Revolution Award for Artistic Excellence Won [70]
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play Familiar Nominated
Black Girls Rock! Award Star Power Celebrant Herself Won [71]
2017 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series The Walking Dead Nominated [72]
2018 Best Supporting Actress Black Panther Won [73]
Best Supporting Actress on a Television Series The Walking Dead Nominated
2019 Black Reel Award Outstanding Supporting Actress Black Panther Nominated [74]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won [75]

References

  1. ^ "College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science: Chemistry Faculty and Staff: Roger Gurira Roger Gurira, Lecturer". University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Donloe, Darlene (April 18, 2012). "The 'Zamerican' Danai Gurira Examines The Convert". LA Stage Times. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c McIntyre, Gina (November 6, 2012). "Walking Dead: Danai Gurira Doubles as Michonne and a Playwright". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Smiley, Tavis (October 10, 2013). "Actress-playwright Danai Gurira" (Video interview; includes complete transcript). Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
  5. ^ Mims, Sergio (March 3, 2012). "Danai Gurira: Actress and Playwright with Africa on Her Mind". Ebony. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  6. ^ "Playscript: The Convert". American Theatre. Theatre Communications Group. 30 (7): 70–71. September 2013. ISSN 8750-3255. OCLC 10594175. Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved October 27, 2014. The complete text of Danai Gurira's tumultuous journey into Zimbabwe's colonial history. Plus: a conversation with the playwright by Tim Sanford.
  7. ^ a b "Danai Gurira – Playwriting Resume" (PDF). Danai Gurira. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 16, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Obie Award for Special Citations (Obie Award) - Winners". awardsandwinners.com. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Danai Gurira Teams Up With Rooftop". Zimbo Jam. October 21, 2011. Archived from the original on September 13, 2013. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  10. ^ Kachka, Boris (May 3, 2009). "Into Africa: Danai Gurira". New York. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Danai Gurira: 2012 Winner in Drama". Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  12. ^ "In Yale Rep's world-premiere 'Familiar,' a family is thrown into flux". Yale News. Yale University. January 14, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  13. ^ a b "2014–2015 Season: Familiar". Yale Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
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External links

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