Emmy history was made when “How to Get Away with Murder” star Viola Davis won outstanding actress in a drama series, becoming the first black actress to claim the prize. Davis overcame fierce competition, including Taraji P. Henson — whose own nomination made this the first year two black actresses were nominated in the category.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” an emotional Davis told the audience.
The star of ABC’s drama series also quoted Harriet Tubman and thanked her fellow African American actresses, including Henson, Kerry Washington and Halle Berry.
“Thank you for taking us over that line,” she said.
“Fame” star Debbie Allen was the first black woman ever nominated for drama series lead actress back in 1982. She was nominated four consecutive times but never won.
Alfre Woodard (“St. Elsewhere”) and Cicely Tyson (“Sweet Justice”) were nominated in 1986 and 1995, respectively, while Regina Taylor earned back-to-back noms for “I’ll Fly Away” in 1992 and 1993 and Kerry Washington did the same for “Scandal” in 2013 and 2014.
Backstage, Davis told reporters that she is very happy with her career and the progression of opportunities for actors of color, but she looks forward to the day when the conversation is over. “Not just stop saying it, but also stop writing it,” she said, praising Shonda Rhimes for writing roles for all humans, adding that her “How To Get Away with Murder” character Annalise Keating was not written for a black woman. “I made her black,” she said.
As for her competitor Taraji P. Henson, who was also nominated for best actress in a drama, Davis raved about the “Empire” star.
“We hugged each other three times,” Davis said of Henson. “By the way, [what] people need to know about Taraji P. Henson — and it’s very, very, very rare to find this in the business — she is the most supportive actress you can possibly imagine.”
The rest of this year’s drama lead actress field included “Orphan Black” fan favorite Tatiana Maslany, “House of Cards” First Lady Robin Wright, three-time Emmy winner Claire Danes of “Homeland” and “Mad Men’s” Elisabeth Moss, who lost out on her sixth and final bid for the AMC series.