Alfre Woodard is an acting legend. With four Emmy awards and 18 nominations, one Golden Globe, three Screen Actors Guild awards and one Oscar nomination, she is the most honored Oklahoma actress in history. She’s been selected as one of People’s Most Beautiful People in America. She even has a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album for Children, for Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales.
With all of these accolades, it’s tempting to think of her as a typical Hollywood star. But the reality is quite different. Since early on in her career, Alfre Woodard has leveraged her success as an actress to fight for justice both here and abroad.
In 1989, Woodard founded Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and fighting for democracy and human rights in South Africa. She was inspired by Nelson Mandela, whom she met when she played the role of his wife Winnie in the 1987 HBO film Mandela. Since its founding, her nonprofit has raised more than $9 million and has provided healthcare to over 3,500 South African AIDS orphans.
In the U.S., Woodard has served on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the national board of the Democratic Party. She has campaigned for several candidates and causes close to her heart. When she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2014, she offered that she always felt a responsibility to use her fame to help the less fortunate.
Born in Tulsa to Marion and Constance Woodard, she attended Bishop Kelley High School, where she focused on cheerleading and running track before auditioning for her first school play. That was all it took. She was instantly enamored of acting, and headed to Boston University to study acting in college.
Woodard won her first of four Emmys in 1984 for “Hill Street Blues,” the same year she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Cross Creek. She hit Emmy gold again in 1987 for “L.A. Law,” in 1997 for Miss Evers’ Boys, and in 2003 for “The Practice.” That fourth win made her the most honored African-American actress in Primetime Emmy history.
While the wins were historic, a look at her 18 Emmy nominations better highlight the great range Woodard has demonstrated as an actress. Her Emmy nominations include work on “St. Elsewhere,” The Piano Lesson, “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Desperate Housewives,” “True Blood” and Steel Magnolias, for which she also received Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice nominations. More recently, she has played the role of the U.S. President on NBC’s “State of Affairs,” Mariah Dillard on Netflix’s “Luke Cage” and Aunt Josephine in Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
The 1997 television drama Miss Evers’ Boys provided Ms. Woodard with her most critically acclaimed role. The film tells the true story about the U.S. government’s 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment on African-American test subjects. For playing Eunice Evers, the nurse who administered the tests, she won the Golden Globe, Emmy, Cable ACE, Image and SAG awards.
Woodard has enjoyed an equally diverse career in film. After her lauded role in Cross Creek, she starred in Scrooged, Grand Canyon, Passion Fish, How to Make an American Quilt, Primal Fear, Love & Basketball and 12 Years a Slave. Star Trek: First Contact gave Woodard her first action figure for her role of Lily Sloan. And she recently joined the cast of Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King, alongside James Earl Jones, Donald Glover and Beyonce.
Woodard will return to Oklahoma this month to be honored as an Oklahoma Film Icon at the 2018 deadCenter Film Festival. The event takes place June 7-10 in downtown OKC. For information on how to see Alfre Woodard in person, visit deadcenterfilm.org.