On 20 September 2015, actress Viola Davis made history at the Emmy Awards when she won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in How to Get Away with Murder. This is the first time a black woman has received this award in the Emmys 67-year history.
Starting with a quote from Harriet Tubman, Davis delivered an emotional acceptance speech, highlighting the struggles black actresses face:
In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.
So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.
And to the Taraji P Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.
Taraji P Henson was a fellow nominee for the award for her role as Cookie, in Empire. When Davis’ name was called Henson hugged and kissed her and followed up with a one-woman standing ovation.
Davis went on to praise Henson for her support in an interview later. She said:
“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, supportive in ways you can’t even begin to understand, and is genuine.
“I’ve been in this business close to 30 years, and I would put her at the top of this list in terms of support,” Davis continued. “We just whispered to each other, whoever gets it, it’s great, it’s wonderful and I love you.”
How to Get Away with Murder is an American television series that premiered on 25 September 25, 2014. The series was created by Peter Nowalk and produced by black screenwriter, director, and producer, Shonda Rhimes.