Emmys: Viola Davis Makes History As Black Actresses Win Big

In a historic win tonight, the law professor is firmly in charge of the TV class. For her role in ABC’s freshman How To Get Away With Murder, Viola Davis has become the first African-American to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. Having already won a SAG Award for her performance as defense lawyer and university law prof Annalise Keating on the Shonda Rhimes series created by Peter Nowalk, Davis previously had been nominated for a Golden Globe for the role.

Regina King“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone is opportunity,” said an emotional Davis as she thanked Rhimes, Oscar winner Halle Berry plus fellow nominee Taraji P. Henson of Empire, among others. Tonight’s telecast earlier saw wins by Orange Is The New Black‘s Uzo Aduba in the Supporting Actress Drama category and American Crime‘s Regina King as Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Or Movie — a record for diversity in the top categories.

She elaborated on her historic win backstage: “I didn’t know everyone wanted me to win it so badly,” she said. “I keep saying the same quote over and over because it hit me so hard is that ‘stories never end.’ My story doesn’t end here. I just think that there is so much work that needs to be done in some many areas in the business with actors of color.” She continues, “there are so many narratives that need to be seen by people, so many stories that kind of need to be seen and felt. I know that it doesn’t end here.”

During the backstage Q & A, recent comments Matt Damon made on diversity were brought up to which a bemused Davis responded, “people don’t know how to discuss race”. “It’s possible to come together and agree/disagree but I don’t know if it’s because of the history that we’ve had it feels like an indictment if we do that”. She expounds “we need to understand that there is a line, there is a difference when it comes to actors of color in this business. It’s not an indictment. If it’s been 76 years since an actress of color has won an Emmy then there’s certainly been a line and it needs to be acknowledged.”

Davis had much praise for fellow nominee Taraji P. Henson. “People need to know about Taraji P Henson, it is very, very rare to find this in the business, she is the most supportive actress you can possibly image. When asked on what was said between the two leading ladies, Davis says Henson whispered ”who ever gets it, it’s great, it’s wonderful, and I love you.”

The win for the two-time Oscar-nominated Davis comes just days before HTGAWM begins its second season on ABC on Thursday nights along with fellow Shondaland shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal

Among the other nominees in the category in the 67th Emmys were multiple past winner Claire Danes of Homeland and two-time-before nominee Robin Wright of House Of Cards. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, who won the Critics’ Choice award in 2013 and finally got an Emmy nomination this year, were also in the category.

Deadline’s Amanda N’Duka contributed to this story.

    1. She’s a great actress and well deserving, but if Claire Danes had gotten up there and said “I’m so thankful for all the opportunities for white women…” people would have flipped the F out. Just accept the award you rightfully won, and move on. Quit making race a controversy, it demeans your talent greatly.

      1. It’s not the same. I get your intention, but it’s not the same. White women have always had opportunities before women of color, that’s a known fact. Hopefully in time race won’t be a controversy, but the reality isn’t always pretty.

      2. Thats false equivalency. She didnt deserve the win tho. Tatiyana maslany did. Plays seven roles and in every scene with varying range of acting. But no one watches orphan black. Watch orphan black then tell me who is better actress.

  1. This is such an awesome achievement for women of color everywhere!

    Thank you for representing black women who dream in color!

  2. Thank you Harriet Tubman, thank you Viola, erase the line. “Where there is a drop of hope there is a well of opportunity.”(my quote)

  3. Dear White Actors: Please feel bad everytime you get nominated or win an award because you took the place of a person of color and diversity is far more important than ability.

        1. The day in the life of a privileged white person. Just sit back and let her have a moment because you can never imagine the way the world really is. Why are we living in 2015 and this rhe first time a black woman won an Emmy for an outstanding performance as a leading lady?? Please do not insult me to say the talent or opportunity hasn’t been there. It has…over and over because it has. Don’t let me school you!

  4. Everything has to be racial. She doesn’t represent an entire race of people; she’s one woman. She won her award (a long time coming, in my opinion) and had to make it all about “women of color” and their struggle against whites. And you got that fool standing in the audience clapping for her because they share the same skin color.

    Just accept the reward and stop acting like this was a major victory for black women everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    Yet the situation has reversed because people are winning awards, getting government help, and voted to the presidency because of their skin color.

    Congrats to Viola Davis for winning, because I believe she’s deserved an award like this for some time. But her skin color has nothing to do with it.

    1. Could not have been better said. I am black as well but i hate when they make it seem like we are still fighting for white approval in this day and age when everyone has opporunities to achieve regardless of skin color.

  5. This is great, but then why does she have to get up there and bitch that there’s no opportunities for black women in Hollywood. Shonda Rhimes is one of the richest women in the world from show business. All she did was sit down and write. Any black woman, or white woman, or green woman can do the same thing, if they have what it takes. No one is holding anyone back. Shonda Rhimes has what it takes. So does Viola Davis. Maybe the black woman sitting next to them doesn’t, so she won’t succeed at the same level. Maybe they could help her, but there’s the real problem: they don’t.

    1. I guess it is hard for people who have not had to struggle to the degree that people of color have had to to understand that the opportunity is there but the challenges are sometimes a bit harder, so I get that they think it is just as easy for people of color but it is not. That being said, congrats to all the winners and you go Viola!!!!

  6. She made it about race because the reality is 95% of the “leading actress” roles are designed to be performed by white females. Therefore, the casting calls specifically request white women for the audition. Black actresses are not considered. A black actress cannot demonstrate her skills if the opportunity is not there. I believe that’s her point – to make you aware. What better platform than this to make you aware?? This is not a knock to white actresses; this is a knock to those who only create roles for which black actresses cannot compete. Have a casting call that is open to all …and then decide. I’m so glad she was given the opportunity to demonstrate her acting skills!! Well-deserved!

  7. When are we going to start realizing that the lines aren’t drawn only black and white? When do we stand up for diversity with Hispanics, Asian Americans, so on and so forth?

  8. Go back and watch the video of ridiculously “defiant” Taraji P. Henson standing up alone after everyone has already sat down, ostentatiously clapping for Davis. Look at an alternately amused/incredulous John Stamos behind her: he’s trying so hard not to laugh at her.

  9. Congrats you are a wonderful actress you so deserve it and to the people who say why she had to make it about race if you have not walk in our shoes you will never understand how sad

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