Through her remarkable career, two time Emmy Nominated Tonya Lee Williams has established herself as an internationally recognized actor. She’s best known for her starring role as “Dr. Olivia Winters” on the popular daytime drama The Young and the Restless which has garnered her with two NAACP Image Awards. She has also been honoured with many other awards including; Howard University’s, The Legacy of Leadership Award; a 2004 Boomerang Award nomination (Australia’s daytime drama awards); the Red Ribbon of Hope Award bestowed on her from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a Positive Impact Award for her years as a positive role model in the Canadian community; the Doctor Bird Award presented to her in Jamaica for outstanding artists of Caribbean descent; the prestigious Harry Jerome Award in 2004; the 2005 ACTRA Award of Excellence one of the highest achievements for Actors in Canada; the 2007 African Canadian Achievement Award; also the city of Oshawa, where she attended high-school, immortalized her with their Oshawa ‘Walk of Fame’ Award, the Planet Africa Award for Media and Entertainment, the 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Award in Montreal and the 2012 International Women Achievers Award.
An only child, born in London, England to Jamaican Parents, Tonya moved to Jamaica when she was only one year old. At the age of five her parents divorced, and she and her Mother returned to the UK, where she continued studying ballet and piano. At the age of twelve she and her Mother moved to Oshawa, Canada, where after high-school (and after winning the Miss Oshawa Fiesta Beauty Pageant and the Miss Black Ontario pageant) she attended Toronto’s Ryerson University Drama program. During the program Tonya worked non-stop in film and television. She eventually left the four year program to focus on her work full-time as an actor and has never looked back. Many people still remember Tonya in the ‘Wear-A-Moustache’ Milk campaigns, dancing on Boogie, for her work on The Polka Dot Door, co-hosting the Miss Tean Canada pageant and starring in the sitcom ‘Check It Out’ on CTV. In 1987 Tonya made the leap of faith by moving to Los Angeles. She quickly landed guest appearances on popular shows like Hill Street Blues, Matlock, Falcon Crest, What’s Happening Now, Gimme A Break, Generations, A Very Brady Christmas and others before landing Y&R in 1990, a show that would change her life forever.
In April 2001 Tonya revolutionized the Canadian entertainment industry by founding ReelWorld Film Festival (www.reelworld.ca). Now in its 12th year and based in Toronto Canada, ReelWorld’s mandate is to create opportunities for artists of colour particularly from the Aboriginal, Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian and multi-racial communities. ReelWorld has grown into a major film festival, not only on the national scene but also internationally – with support from individuals like Robert Townsend, Shabana Azmi, Eriq LaSalle, Sandra Oh, Adam Beach and many others. The five-day event showcases features, documentaries, animation, shorts, music videos, industry panels, awards, parties, galas attended by celebrities and film-lovers. Tonya believes that “through film and television we have the greatest opportunity to change those images that continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes to the public at large”.
Tonya continues to work on Y&R and other projects; with Danny Glover in the feature film Poor Boy’s Game; with Tia and Tamara Mowry in the Lifetime movie Double Wedding; and as Octavia Jones, a senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent, on the CBC night-time hit drama The Border; and starring in VisioinTV’s She’s The Mayor playing Maxine Williams.
Tonya is also President of her own production company Wilbo Entertainment. In 2003 she produced and hosted the Tonya Lee Williams Gospel Jubilee for CBC and in 2004 she Executive Produced and Director Kink in Her Hair for Vision TV. She believes “there is a rich untapped Diverse audience in Canada, that is hungry to see itself reflected on our screens, the future of our Industry, lies in its ability to provide entertainment for this growing demographic”.
Tonya’s tireless advocacy work in the Canadian entertainment industry was recognized by the City of Toronto when they invited her to sit on the Toronto Film Board.
Tonya continues to live in Los Angeles where she also has an on-line consulting business that helps actors create a sustainable career in the entertainment industry.