Actress Viola Davis gave arguably the most stirring acceptance speech at the Academy Awards Sunday night. In receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film adaptation of the August Wilson play Fences, a teary-eyed Davis explained where she finds inspiration—from those who have passed without having their stories told.
“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time—what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories—the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
But beyond the touching tribute, Davis’ win puts her in rare company. By taking Oscar home, she becomes the first black person to achieve what’s considered the acting Triple Crown—winning a Tony, an Emmy, and an Academy Award. Davis has won two Tonys—for King Hedley II in 2001 and for the theatrical version of Fences in 2010—and an Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder in 2010.
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The club of those who have accomplished Triple Crown is exclusive—Davis is its 23rd member. Before Davis joined the esteemed group, Jessica Lange was the most recent entrant when she won a Tony for Long Day’s Journey Into Night last year. Other members include Frances McDormand, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, and Al Pacino. There are other individuals who have snagged all three awards, but they’ve done so for non-acting achievements. Whoopi Goldberg, for instance, has won all three, but her Tony was for producing a musical, so she’s not included in the acting Triple Crown group, as the Washington Post points out.
Six other female nominees had the chance to make history of their own Sunday night. Actress Meryl Streep of Florence Foster Jenkins could have tied the legendary Katharine Hepburn for the most acting awards at four had she won for Best Actress. Hidden Figures’ Octavia Spencer, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, could have become the first black women to win multiple Oscars. Ava DuVernay could have broken ground as the first black female director to win best documentary for her film 13th about America’s incarceration epidemic. Likewise, if they would have won, Manchester by the Sea producer Kimberly Steward and film editor Joi McMillon of Moonlight would have been the first black women to win in the best picture and film editing categories, respectively. Sound editing could have seen its first female Asian winner had Ai-Ling Lee of La La Land taken home the prize.
Despite the high stakes, all six went home empty-handed.
This story has been updated to clarify that the ‘Triple Crown,’ in this instance, is a designation reserved for acting achievements.