By Kristen Maikoo
On Sept. 20, Viola Davis was the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for the best actress in a drama series. Davis’s recognition was for her lead role as Annalise Keating in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder.
In her speech, after quoting Harriet Tubman, Davis said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
In a interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show DeGeneres remarked, “I did want to mark the fact that it was the first African-American to win in the lead actress category, so I loved the Harriet Tubman quote. I thought it was so progressive.”
“I just thought that that moment was bigger than me,” Davis said on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “It was bigger than just an actress winning in that category…and it needed to be marked.”
Taraji P. Henson was also nominated for the drama category. After the event, Davis and Henson acknowledged each other. In an interview with the New York Times, Davis reveals more about the exchange between the actresses. “I think at the end of the day, people want to be seen. And I think that’s why it was important for me and Taraji to acknowledge that in each other, to not just feel like it is competition, to just say, I see you, yes, I see you, too.”
Bill Cosby was the first African-American actor to win in any category in 1966 and Isabel Sanford was the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series in 1981.
Davis’s filmography includes several roles in other television series, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and United States of Tara, as well as films like The Help and Doubt.
While exciting, Davis’s win is a reminder that there is still have a long way to go when it comes to the media’s representation of people of color. It’s almost unfathomable to think that 2015 is the first time an African-American woman won an Emmy for best actress in a drama series.
Several celebrities reacted to Davis on her Emmy acceptance speech via social media. Davis mentioned to People that she did not expect her winning to have such an impact, “because all you really need to do is shift people just a tiny bit for change to happen. It doesn’t have to be huge and humongous. That’s been a surprise.”