×

Viola Davis Becomes First Black Woman to Win Lead Actress in a Drama Series

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.

More TV

  • Baldvin-Z

    Iceland’s Baldvin Z Crime Series “Black Sands” Added to All3Media Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden  All3Media is to handle international rights on Icelandic crime series “Black Sands” which, currently in development, is to be pitched at the Göteborg Festival’s TV Drama Vision confab on Thursday. “Black Sands” marks the first crime thriller to be created by Icelandic helmer Baldvin Z (“Trapped”) since the hit series “Case.” Commissioned by [...]

  • Justin Timberlake performs onstage during the

    Ad Time in Fox's Super Bowl Was Sold Out. Until it Wasn't

    Fox declared in November that it had sold all the advertising time available in its looming February 2 broadcast of Super Bowl LIV. But just this week, it found a little more. After holding nearly two months’ worth of discussions, Fox and the National Football League have devised a way to add commercial inventory to [...]

  • NBC Orders Drama Pilot 'Ordinary Joe'

    NBC Orders Drama Pilot 'Ordinary Joe' From 'House' Alums

    NBC has given out its fifth drama pilot order for the 2020-2021 season. The broadcaster has commissioned “Ordinary Joe.” It explores the three parallel lives of the show’s main character after he makes a pivotal choice at a crossroads in his life. The series asks the question of how different life might look if you [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho 'Parasite' Director

    Listen: Who Will Take Home the Oscars for Best Director and Picture?

    The Oscars are just two weeks away, so it’s time to start making final predictions about who is going to win. On this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, I invited the magazine’s deputy awards and features editor (and my “Pick of the Week” co-host) Jenelle Riley onto the show [...]

  • Dazzler, Tigra, Hit-Monkey, and M.O.D.O.K.

    'Howard the Duck,' 'Tigra & Dazzler' Animated Marvel Shows Not Moving Forward at Hulu

    Marvel Television’s remaining slate continues to dwindle. Variety has confirmed that the animated shows “Howard the Duck” and “Tigra & Dazzler” — two of four animated Marvel projects set up at Hulu — are no longer in the works at the streamer. The other two shows, “M.O.D.O.K” and “Hit Monkey,” are currently still on track [...]

  • Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi movie

    After 'Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi Delay, Is the Force Still Strong With Disney Plus?

    The issues on Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi series are either a minor stumble or a portent of trouble ahead, depending on who you ask. It was reported on Thursday that series writer Hossein Amini was no longer attached to the project as Disney wished to overhaul the scripts. The move led to pre-production in London [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content