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Spelman College Commencement

2020 Commencement Address

Danai Gurira


Danai Gurira - 2020 Commencement SpeakerDanai Gurira is an award-winning playwright and actress. She is distinguished as the first African female writer to have a play on Broadway, bringing the perspective of African women to mainstream theater. Her stage plays give voice to untold narratives. They include In the Continuum (OBIE Award, Outer Critics Award, Helen Hayes Award), Eclipsed (Tony nomination: Best Play, NAACP Award, Helen Hayes Award: Best New Play, Connecticut Critics Circle Award: Outstanding Production of a Play), and The Convert (six Ovation Awards, L.A. Outer Critics Award). Her newest play, Familiar, received its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre and premiered in New York at Playwrights Horizons in February of 2016. Commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons, and the Royal Court, she is a recipient of the Sam Norkin Award (2016 Drama Desk Awards), a Whiting Award, and a Hodder Fellowship.

As an actor, Gurira starred as General Okoye in Marvel’s 2018 Academy Award-winning blockbuster film Black Panther, for which she won a People’s Choice Award (Favorite Action Movie Star), an NAACP Image Award (Outstanding Supporting Actress/Motion Picture) and a shared SAG Award (Outstanding Performance by a Cast/Motion Picture). Later that year she reprised her role in Avengers: Infinity War and again in Avengers: Endgame, which went on to become the number one top grossing film in history. She most recently starred in her final season as Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead, which remains a top-rated cable program in its tenth season. Her other acting credits include the feature films All Eyez on Me, Mother of George, The Visitor, and Shakespeare in the Park’s stage production of Measure for Measure (Equity Callaway Award).

Born in Iowa to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe, Gurira holds an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. An ambassador for Bono’s ONE campaign, she is co-founder of Almasi Arts Alliance, which works to give access and opportunity to African dramatic artists. With a personal dedication to effecting tangible change in gender equality and pushing global leaders toward real policy transformation, she is founder of Love Our Girls, which spotlights the specific challenges faced by women and girls while celebrating the courageous work by organizations seeking to make a difference. In December 2018 she was also named a Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Women, supporting its mandate of gender equality and women’s rights and leveraging her celebrity as an amplifier of other women’s voices.