Anna Deavere Smith and Her West Wing Residencies

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Contribution to Books

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In January 2013, the BBC News service reported, "West Wing star Anna Deavere Smith wins top art prize," the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, for her "innovative one-woman documentary stage shows."1 The story's headline and lead-in sentence indicate the contradiction that has marked Smith's diverse career: she receives prestigious awards for her work in theater, but she is best known for her work in television and film. Her dual career tracks were thematically interwoven, with White House politics as the connecting thread, for about a decade, beginning in the 1990s. As the title of the BBC article suggests, her small screen representation of National Security Advisor Nancy McNally on the TV series The West Wing, a highly rated network show that has become one of the most studied examples of television's imitation of political life, is the role that made her famous in the United States and abroad.2 The West Wing was not Smith's first foray into fictional presidential politics, however; she appeared in the cinematic antecedent of Aaron Sorkin's television hit, the feature film The American President (1995), directed by Rob Reiner with a script by Sorkin. Two years prior, she had a small role in another film about the Presidency, Dave, directed by Ivan Reitman.

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