As she celebrates her historic oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in Fences, Davis, 51, reflects on her journey to the pinnacle of Hollywood success in PEOPLE’s new cover story. “I cannot believe my life,” she says. “I just can’t. I’m so blessed.”
The first Black woman to ever be nominated for three Academy Awards, Davis has been paving her own way for more than 30 years, with powerful performances in films like 2011’s The Help and on TV, where she currently stars in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder.
Growing up in Central Falls, R.I., Davis and her five siblings endured harsh living conditions as their parents, Dan and Mae Alice, struggled to make ends meet. “I would jump in trash bins with maggots looking for food, and I would steal from the corner store because I was hungry,” the actress says. “I never had any kids come to my house because my house was a condemned building, it was boarded up, it was infested with rats. I was one of those kids who were poor and knew it.”