Shenandoah University musical theatre student Dorian Davis is going to the Oscars! This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with and observe seasoned, world renowned actors is a first for this Shenandoah Conservatory sophomore, who performed in the Oscar-nominated short film titled “My Nephew Emmett.” The film, which focuses on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, is one of five movies nominated for Best Short Film (Live Action).
While the opportunity seems a stunning opportunity, Davis nearly missed the nomination.
“I was on the stairwell outside of my residence hall and I was watching the Facebook live broadcast on the Academy Awards page. My mom was on the phone, and they started calling out the names for our category fairly quickly. I didn’t recognize that when they called our film that we were in the top five list.” He continued saying that the next several moments were filled with cheering, shouting, and tears of joy causing some of his friends to peek outside their dorm rooms and check on him.
Since the announcement, Davis’ family, friends and professors have offered him a great deal of love and support. Even people he doesn’t know have reached out to wish him luck at the Oscars.
“My Nephew Emmett” tells the story of the real-life murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Davis plays Emmett’s cousin, Maurice Wright. Wright drove when Emmett Till and the others went into a Mississippi town, where Emmett allegedly whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant.
He mentioned that getting to act in a movie that is based on a real-life tragic event was a very different experience, and he felt honored and excited to take on the new challenge.
Davis, a sophomore, finds the challenge of balancing acting, work and classes a lot of fun, and he says he enjoys staying busy. He thanks Associate Professor of Theatre J.J. Ruscella, M.F.A.; Master Teacher of Acting and Professor of Theatre & Acting Larry Silverberg; and other Shenandoah Conservatory professors for preparing him for film opportunities and for pushing him to constantly improve his craft.
According to Davis, acting has played a prominent role in his life from the start. As a young child growing up in Mississippi, he started performing in musical theatre after his mom suggested it. Finding he enjoyed it, he kept at it, began taking it seriously, and eventually decided it was the career path he wanted to pursue. He said it just felt like the natural path for him to follow. Davis discovered the “My Nephew Emmett” opportunity back in December of 2016 through Backstage.com and decided to send in some audition tapes which landed him the role.
Looking to the future, Davis says he hopes to work with more actors, maybe even one day getting to work with Denzel Washington.
“I can’t imagine doing it right now,” he explained. “I’m not sure I’m ready to just be beside him and work with him, but I think I can relate to his story growing up.” Either way, Davis said whether it be on stage or on film, he thinks it would be “awesome” to get to work with Washington.
This is not Davis’ first time in Hollywood. He had a small role in “The Lucky One,” released in 2012. He received a recognition of work and character award for his part in that movie and visited Hollywood to receive that award. Still, he is very eager to attend the Oscars during spring break.
“It feels unreal; it’s insane,” he said. He is particularly excited to hang out with other actors and artists while enjoying the Oscars ceremony. “To get recognized in this way, it’s just really awesome.”
Davis also worked last fall semester on “Santa Girl,” which was co-produced by Capital Arts Entertainment and Shenandoah University, and was filmed on the campus and within the Winchester community. While the light-hearted humor of “Santa Girl” contrasted greatly against the serious narrative in “My Nephew Emmett,” Davis commented on how fun it was to play the two very different roles. He especially enjoyed spending time with and playing off of the other cast members.
The Oscars air on Sunday, March 4. Tune in to cheer for Dorian Davis and the cast of “My Nephew Emmett.”
Written by Rachel Sherman | Psychology major ’18