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Viola Davis Goes for Lead Actress and History-Making Noms for ‘The Woman King,’ Thuso Mbedu Campaigns Supporting (EXCLUSIVE)

No Black woman has ever been nominated for best picture and actress. Could Viola Davis be the first?

The Woman King - Lashana Lynch - Viola Davis - Thuso Mbedu
EVERETT COLLECTION / SONY PICTURES

After two weeks of solid showings at the box office, excellent reviews and passionate fan responses, “The Woman King” has become one of the year’s standout hits, with plans to be competitive in the awards races for both major and artisan category attention. 

One of the film’s standout stars, Thuso Mbedu, who plays the young Nawi, will be campaigning for supporting actress attention, Variety has learned. Academy Award winner Viola Davis (“Fences”) will be the sole actress campaigning for lead actress

Mbedu, who was the breakout sensation of 2021’s Emmy-nominated series “The Underground Railroad” from director Barry Jenkins, will compete in supporting alongside her co-stars Sheila Atim, Jayme Lawson, Adrienne Warren and most prominent, Lashana Lynch. All of the male actors, including John Boyega, will be competing in supporting actor

Beginning with “Gone with the Wind” (1939) duo Olivia de Havilland and winner Hattie McDaniel, who became the first Black woman ever to win an Oscar, we’ve seen a total of 35 films get two noms for supporting actress over Oscar history. The last occurrence was Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for “The Favourite” (2018). 

There’s been one instance of two Black women nominated in the category from the same movie – Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey for “The Color Purple” (1986). In fact, it’s only happened one other time in any other acting category: the shocking double dip of eventual winner Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield (who was campaigned in lead) for “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021). 

THE WOMAN KING, Thuso Mbedu, 2022. © TriStar Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection ©TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Read: the latest predictions, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.

Can both Mbedu and Lynch get attention from the actor’s branch? With the recent news of Michelle Williams seeking a lead actress nom, their chances increase significantly, even if many feel Mbedu is more of a lead in “The Woman King.” 

Davis has been shattering ceilings at the Academy for the past few years. She’s already the most nominated Black woman in history with four nominations. She’s also the first to be nominated for best actress a second time. If she manages a nomination once again for her work as general and battle warrior Nanisca, she would be the first Black woman to be nominated for a film that she also served as a producer on. 

If “The Woman King” lands among the 10 films nominated for best picture, Davis would be only the third Black woman nominated in the category after Winfrey (“Selma”) and Kimberly Steward (“Manchester by the Sea”). If she’s able to land in lead actress too, she would be the first Black woman, and second woman ever, nominated for acting and producing the same year. The other was Frances McDormand for “Nomadland” (2020), who won both. For context, people like Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood have done this multiple times. 

To add a little glee to the equation, her co-star, co-producer and husband Julius Tennon, would also be a nominee, marking the first time a married couple shares the best picture nomination in the same year.

THE WOMAN KING, Lashana Lynch, 2022. © TriStar Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection ©TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Six Black men have been nominated for directing in the history of the Oscars – John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood”), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”). Despite close calls and egregious snubs for artists like Ava DuVernay and Regina King, we’ve yet to see a Black woman nominated. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood could become the first. 

Composer Terence Blanchard made history as the first Black composer to be nominated for original score twice after “Da 5 Bloods” (2020). He could extend that record. That same year was also the first time multiple Black composers were nominated, with the other being eventual winner Jon Batiste for “Soul” (along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). 

Cinematographer Polly Morgan hopes to join Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) and Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”) as the only women nominated in the category.  

Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire would be the third Black person and second Black woman nominated after Hugh A. Robertson (“Midnight Cowboy”) and Joi McMillon (“Moonlight”). 

As it stands, Oscar winner Hannah Beachler’s historic win for “Black Panther” (2018) is the only winner and nominee for Black production designers. Akin McKenzie’s 19th-century creation of the Dahomey kingdom could make him the second. 

Written by Dana Stevens, “The Woman King” has now grossed $36.2 million at the domestic box office. It hopes to continue its historic run into the Oscar season.