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.
“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.