Danai Gurira

Actress and playwright Danai Gurira won critical acclaim with her first play, "In the Continuum" (2006), which addressed social and political issues in her parents' home country of Africa. She would pen two more well regarded works - 2009's "Eclipsed" and 2011's "The Convert, both of which concerned African issues - while enjoying a second career as an actress on television and in features like "The Visitor" (2009). Two years later, Gurira would enjoy her most prominent acting turn as the flinty zombie fighter Michonne on "The Walking Dead" (AMC, 2010- ). The positive response to her performance, in addition to her growing profile in the theater world, indicated that Gurira was poised for stardom in both mediums. Born Danai Jekesai Gurira on Feb. 14, 1978 in Grinnell, IA, she was the second of two children born to academic parents from Zimbabwe, who moved the family back to Africa when she was five years old. There, she enjoyed a happy childhood that soon became focused on performing. After high school, she returned to the United States, where she attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota before earning her masters degree in acting from the Tisch School at New York University. With Nikkole Salter, she wrote the off-Broadway play, "In the Continuum" (2006), about the lives of two women infected with HIV, which won the Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards for writing, while Gurira herself claimed the Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress in 2007. That same year, she made her feature film debut in "The Visitor" (2007) as a young Senegalese woman who helped a widowed economics professor (Richard Jenkins) find joy and purpose in his life. Minor roles in "Ghost Town" (2008) and Wes Craven's "My Soul to Take" (2010) soon followed, as did Gurira's Broadway debut as an actress in a production of August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" in 2009. That same year, she premiered her second play, "Eclipsed" (2009), about a quartet of women held captive by a rebel leader during the war in Liberia in 2003. The production won Best New Play at the 2010 Helen Hayes Awards as well as Best Playwright for Gurira from the NAACP Theater Awards that same year. In 2011, she appeared in William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" with the New York Shakespeare Festival, and then premiered her third play, "The Convert," about a teenage girl in 19th century Zimbabwe who turned to Christianity to evade an arranged marriage. Like its predecessors, the play won several major theater awards, including the 2011 Stavis Award and Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. After enjoying a supporting role in a six-episode story arc on "Treme" (HBO, 2010-13), Gurira earned her breakout screen role as Michonne, a tough, resourceful new character on the third season of "The Walking Dead"; Michonne immediately became not only a fan favorite, but one of the series' most important characters Gurira was subsequently cast as the lead in "Mother of George" (2013), an independent drama with an African setting. In addition to her acting and playwrighting careers, Gurira was co-founder of Almasi, an organization devoted to supporting arts education in Zimbabwe. In 2015, Gurira's fourth play, "Familiar," was produced. After playing the mother of iconic rapper Tupac Shakur in the biopic "All Eyez on Me" (2017), Gurira joined the cast of another international phenomenon with her role as Okoye in the blockbuster "Black Panther" (2018). She reprised the role later the same year in "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018).