Last night’s Emmys were a big deal and it has nothing to do with Game of Thrones. Viola Davis made history last night as the first black actress to win the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her role on How to Get Away with Murder. Even if she hadn’t won, the nomination alone was a big deal since it was the first time more than one black actress had been nominated in the category at once—Empire’s Taraji P. Henson was the other nominee.
The talented Davis channeled Harriet Tubman—whom Davis will be playing in an HBO movie still to come (just give her the statue now, Academy Awards)—quoting the civil rights activist and humanitarian by opening her acceptance speech with, “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.” Davis continued, highlighting that her history-making win wasn’t simply because there hasn’t been a wealth of talented black actresses, but instead because “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.”
She ended her speech by calling out writers and actresses who have been working to cross that line, from Shonda Rhimes and Peter Nowalk to Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington, thanking them for helping to redefine what it “means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Her win came later in the night, after Regina King won for American Crime and Uzo Aduba won her second award for Orange is the New Black. This year’s Emmy wins definitely point at the possibility that there are more opportunities for people of color on television than in film, especially since the 2015 Oscars didn’t even nominate an actor or actress of color in a main category, and the year before that only saw Lupita Nyong'o as a major statue winner.