Danai Gurira is an American actress and playwright of Zimbabwean origin who is best known for her roles as Michonne on the AMC horror drama series 'The Walking Dead' and as Okoye in the Marvel superhero movies 'Black Panther' and 'Avengers: Infinity War'. Among her other notable movies is 'Mother of George', in which she played the lead role of a Nigerian woman. She has also made guest appearances on several television shows including 'Life on Mars', 'Law & Order', and 'American Experience'. She began her career on stage and has written critically acclaimed plays such as 'In the Continuum’, 'Eclipsed', 'The Convert' and 'Familiar', the last of which was commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre. According to her, being “brought up by a scientist and a librarian”, she is “an academic at heart”, which helps her do the exhaustive research she needs to write her plays. Gurira, who feels that stories of African women are told very rarely, considers her three plays ¬– ‘In the Continuum’, ‘Eclipsed’ and ‘The Convert’ – as “parts of a trilogy on Zimbabwe’s coming of age from a feminine perspective”.
Childhood & Early Life
Danai Jekesai Gurira was born on February 14, 1978 in Grinnell, Iowa to Roger and Josephine Gurira. Her father was formerly a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at Grinnell College, and her mother was formerly a librarian at the college. Both of them later joined the staff of University of Wisconsin–Platteville.
Danai is the youngest of the four siblings. She has two sisters named Shingai and Choni, and a brother named Tare, who is a chiropractor.
In December 1983, when she was only five, her parents, who had relocated to the United States from Southern Rhodesia in 1964, went back to Harare, Zimbabwe after the country gained independence.
She attended Dominican Convent High School in Harare, and later returned to the US to study psychology at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. After completing her graduation, she entered New York University's Tisch School of the Arts to study acting and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.
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After completing her acting course, Danai Gurira began playwriting side-by-side her stage acting career because she thought that it would allow her to better utilize her skills as an actress. Within a short period of time, she built a reputation as a playwright and was commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons, and the Royal Court.
In 2005, she co-wrote and performed ‘In the Continuum’ with Nikkole Salter, depicting on her part the perspective of a Zimbabwean woman who had contracted HIV from her husband. The play was staged first at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and later off-Broadway, and earned her an 'Obie Award', an 'Outer Critics Circle Award', and a 'Helen Hayes Award' for Best Lead Actress.
She made her Broadway acting debut playing Martha Pentecost in a production of 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone' by August Wilson at the Belasco Theatre in 2009. The same year, she published the play 'Eclipsed', which tells the story of five sex slaves taken captive by commandos in Liberia during the regime of Charles Taylor shortly before the civil war ended.
In 2011, she briefly portrayed Isabella in 'Measure for Measure' for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, and then in 2012, staged her third play, 'The Convert', at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. They play which depicts the conflict within Jekesai, a girl who escapes a forced marriage arrangement, earned Gurira the 'Whiting Award' for an emerging playwright.
She was commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre to write the play, 'Familiar', directed by Rebecca Taichman, which chronicles the experiences of a first generation American. The play premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre in January 2015 and opened Off-Broadway at Playwright's Horizons the following month, and earned her the 'Sam Norkin Award'.
TV & Film Career
Danai Gurira's screen acting career started with the 2007 film 'The Visitor', in which her portrayal of Zainab got her the 'Method Fest Independent Film Festival Award' for 'Best Supporting Actress'. In the following years, she appeared in a few small roles in films such as 'Ghost Town', '3 Backyards', 'My Soul to Take', and 'Restless City'.
During this time, she also appeared in guest roles in a number of television shows including 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent', 'Life on Mars', 'Law & Order', 'American Experience', and 'Lie to Me'. In 2010, she bagged a recurring role in the HBO drama series 'Treme'.
In March 2012, it was announced that she will join the cast of AMC's horror-drama series 'The Walking Dead', as Michonne, a relentless, katana-wielding character, in the third season of the show. She has been one of the major characters on the show ever since, even though with her recent success on high-budget films, fans are worried about the future of her character.
She was cast in the lead role of a Nigerian woman struggling to live in the United States in the 2013 independent drama film 'Mother of George', directed by Andrew Dosunmu. In June that year, she won the 'Jean-Claude Gahd Dam Award' at the 2013 'Guys Choice Awards' for her performance in the film.
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She provided the voice of Fury in Disney's animated fantasy film, 'Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast', in 2015. Two years later, she portrayed Afeni Shakur, rapper Tupac Shakur's mother, in the biographical drama film 'All Eyez on Me'.
Her big film break came in 2018 when she appeared as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, the personal bodyguards of the Black Panther in the Marvel superhero film of the same name. She received praise for her performance in the film, and reprised the role in 'Avengers: Infinity War', which released in April that year and became the top-grossing film of the year.
Danai Gurira became a household name after she began appearing on AMC's TV series 'The Walking Dead'. Since she joined the show in its third season, it became the highest rated series in cable television history.
The comic-book superhero movie 'Black Panther' has been hailed by critics as one of the best films, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a worldwide business of over $1.3 billion, it is the second-highest-grossing film of 2018, the third-highest-grossing film ever in the United States, and the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time.
Personal Life & Legacy
Danai Gurira currently lives in Los Angeles and regularly travels to New York City. She can speak in four languages: French, Shona, basic Xhosa, and English.
She has been linked to her 'The Walking Dead' co-star Norman Reedus since they casually locked lips while on the sets of the show. However, the two have not spilled any details about the relationship yet and she is considered to be single.
Danai Gurira is a fitness enthusiast and does Pilates and cross training. She enjoyed the physical challenges of learning to ride horses for 'The Walking Dead'.
She was called by the nickname 'Dede' while her family was staying in Iowa, and she reportedly didn't know her real name till she was five.