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Why Laila Davis From Chicago P.D. Looks So Familiar

In the sixth season of "Chicago P.D.," an episode titled "Black and Blue" foregrounds Officer Kevin Atwater's (LaRoyce Hawkins) struggle as Black man in law enforcement. The episode places fan-favorite Atwater at the center of a murder investigation wherein he's forced to make some difficult decisions between doing what's best for the investigation itself, and doing what he can to actually deliver some justice to both the community and the individuals involved. 

One of those individuals, a former dealer named Laila Davis, not only assists Atwater with tracking down the main suspect (her ex-boyfriend Kenny, a drug kingpin played by Tobias Truvillion), she also manages to save his life and engage in a brief romantic relationship with the conflicted officer. Unfortunately for Atwater, despite his new love interest's benevolent work within the community and willingness to work with CPD, her fingerprint is found on a gun connected to a nine-year-old murder. Needless to say, as usual, Atwater is deprived of a happy ending. 

If the actor who portrays Davis, Milauna Jemai Jackson, looks familiar to some viewers, there's good reason for that. Though her career kicked-off relatively recently (in the early 2000s), she has managed to make a name for herself as an in-demand television actor, landing a wide range of recurring roles in a variety of series. 

Jackson kicked-off her career in Lincoln Heights

Although the Chicago native and eventual "Animal Kingdom" star had popped up briefly in several TV series by 2008 — including "Cold Case" and "Dexter" — her first recurring role was in ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights." The series follows Russell Hornsby's Detective Eddie Sutton and his family as they navigate a life-changing move to the crime-filled neighborhood of Lincoln Heights after Sutton is offered ownership of a recently-raided crack house.

Milauna Jemai Jackson — credited at the time as Milauna Jackson — joined the series in its Season 3 premiere, titled "Glass House." Jackson's character, Cydelle "Cyd" Glass, breaks in to the Sutton's home with two other perpetrators in an effort to reclaim a stash of money she believes is still on the premise. The house originally belonged to Cyd's grandmother, and she was there the day of the raid. "They didn't see us," she says of Sutton and his team, who refused to acknowledge that the house was somebody's home — "they was just taking out the trash." 

Unbeknownst to Cyd, Sutton's teenage daughter and her boyfriend are in the house when she breaks in, and she ends up going to jail for taking them hostage in the course of the crime. In the following season, the Sutton patriarch helps Cyd obtain parole, takes her in, and ensures she gets back the money that was left in her grandmother's house. 

Following her role on the four-season series, Jackson made the leap to film with her next project. 

Jackson gave a riveting performance in Blood Done Sign my Name

In 2010, the actor starred in Jeb Stuart's ("Vikings: Valhalla") adaptation of author Timothy B. Tyson's memoir, "Blood Done Sign My Name." The book (and film of the same name) tells the true story of the 1970 murder of Black Vietnam veteran Henry Marrow at the hands of three white men who were later acquitted by an all-white jury in Oxford, North Carolina (via Penguin Random House). 

The film follows both the murder itself and the rejuvenation of the Civil Rights movement in Oxford following the disastrous trial outcome. Starring Michael Rooker ("The Walking Dead"), Omar Benson Miller ("CSI: Miami"), Nate Parker (2016's "The Birth of a Nation"), and Ricky Schroder ("24"), the film received a Best Picture nomination at the 2010 AAFCA awards (via IMDb), and helped introduce Jackson to a wider audience. In "Blood Done Sign My Name," the actor tackles the role of Marrow's grief-stricken wife, Willie Mae Marrow, who is barely allowed time to mourn before she must take up the fight against state-sanctioned violence and systemic racism in the wake of her husband's murderers' unjustifiable acquittal. 

Roger Ebert praised the film (along with its source material), saying Stuart "focuses on the events and people, and lets them speak for themselves...(using) a level, unforgiving gaze." Jackson's compelling portrayal of one of those people would serve her career well, though its safe to say her next recurring role went a long way toward demonstrating her extreme range of ability.

Jackson flexed her comedic muscles in Squad 85

For six hilarious episodes, Jackson starred on YOMYOMF's "Squad 85," a YouTube series about a young, ragtag team of L.A.P.D. officers from 1985 who end up accidentally transported to present-day L.A. Created by Gregory Bonsignore, the series blended a "fish out of water" premise with "Reno 911!" satire and a dash of 80s police procedural tropes, and starred Diedrich Bader of "MAD TV" fame, Rizwan Manji ("Schitt's Creek"), Travis Van Winkle ("You"), and "The 100" star Christopher Larkin, as well as a litany of other familiar faces. 

In the series, Jackson played a wheelchair-bound character named (in keeping with her 1980s origin) "Wheels," and served as the confused police force's rock back at the "station." Despite each episode coming in at just under eight full minutes, the series gave Jackson a chance to flex her finely-tuned comedic muscles, and acted as further proof that her star had truly begun its ascent. 

In Cinemax's Strike Back, Jackson's character refused to suffer fools gladly

Following her six-episode stint as Wheels, Jackson turned again to more dramatic material, albeit of the action-packed persuasion. In 2013, Jackson slid seamlessly into the badass role of DEA SA Kim Martinez in the Cinemax original series, "Strike Back." Starring "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" star Philip Winchester as Sgt. Michael Stonebridge — the leader of a different kind of "elite squad" — the series follows a top secret intelligence unit of the British military known as Section 20. Stonebridge and his fellow specially-skilled operatives travel the globe on a variety of high risk missions, but there comes a time when even the most talented and trusted group of military personnel need a little supervision and assistance. Enter: Jackson's character.

In Season 3, the troop travels to Columbia, where Martinez is brought in to give them some help on the ground. In a promo video for the series, Jackson said that while her character was "more rough around the edges," there was a "twinge of Milauna in Kim and Kim in Milauna," adding that she was enjoying all the hard and physical action work, which was "completely new" for her. According to her co-star Winchester, the actor was "learning how to load a gun and shoot a gun" while the cast was "literally swimming across rivers" (via Cinemax YouTube). 

Jackson remained on the series for sixteen episodes, and although her next recurring role was a far cry from her time with Section 20 team, it too served to illustrate the actor's endless range. 

In Aquarius, Jackson embodied a character, a time, and place

Having more than established herself as a go-to actor for dramatic television series, Jackson moved to NBC in 2015 with a starring role in John McNamara's "Aquarius." Set in the crucible of 1960s L.A., the series follows David Duchovny's jaded, seen-it-all officer Sam Hodiak and his wide-eyed and willing trainee, Grey Damon's Brian Shafe. Though "Aquarius'" through line centered on the early career, build-up, and devoted following of cult leader Charles Manson ("Game of Thrones" star Gethin Anthony), it was also an exploration of the time and place itself, and presented its interconnected narratives about civil rights, women's rights, and burgeoning serial killers in a manner similar to Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City." 

In the Critics Choice Award-winning series, Jackson plays Officer Shafe's wife Kristin, whose existence he's hesitant to share with his partner and others on the force, given the interracial nature of their union. What begins as an idyllic marriage grows tense when Kristin begins working with the Black Panthers and her husband fails to attempt to understand her struggle, questions her motives, and implies she's putting her and their child's life at risk unnecessarily. Things go from bad to worse when Brian develops a heroin habit and the two separate, but his downward spiral allows Jackson's equal-parts heartbreaking and riveting performance to move to center stage. It's no wonder that in the same year "Aquarius" came to an end, Jackson was already starring in one of rival network's most popular series. 

Jackson proved a worthy opponent in How to Get Away with Murder

Despite her long list of memorable performances leading up to her role on "Chicago P.D.,"  Milauna Jemai Jackson is perhaps best-known for her role as ADA Renee Atwood on Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes' and creator Peter Nowalk's "How to Get Away with Murder." 

Jackson joined the cast in Season 3, and as prosecuting ADA Atwood, served as the main antagonist to the incomparable Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and her defense team. Atwood has long-held a personal grudge against Keating, and their tension-filled dynamic both complicates and gives even more weight to the latter's defenses of accused murderers Toby Solomon (Austin Basis) and Daniela Alvodar (Alyssa Diaz, of "Army Wives" and "Ray Donovan"). To add even more fuel to the duo's fiery opposition of one another, Atwood rekindles her relationship with Keating's former lover Nate Lahey (Billy Brown), and it soon becomes clear that the two attorneys' hatred for one another runs deeper than their respective court case stats. 

Following her cameo on "Chicago P.D.," the actor returned to the silver screen and reunited with her former co-star Nate Parker for 2019's "American Skin," produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by Parker. Presently, fans of the actor can catch her portraying Pam on TNT's "Animal Kingdom."