Viola Davis took home a historic Emmy victory on Sunday, when she won an Emmy for lead drama actress for her role in How to Get Away with Murder. This makes her the first black woman in history to win the prestigious award for a lead rather than supporting role.
When her name was called, Davis could barely hold back the tears. She stood up, gave Taraji P. Henson a hug, and took the stage, very aware of the history she had just made. Her inspiring acceptance speech moved the audience to tears as she spoke of the other women in her same situation and the milestones that she had overcome in the past.
She began with these words, her voice trembling with emotion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“‘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.”
Tubman’s words made the perfect opening line for 50-year-old Davis who has come so far in her acting career. She also took the time to recognize the “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Hallie Berries, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union — thank you for taking us over that line.”
Though Davis was the only black woman to take an Emmy home for her lead role in a drama, she was not the only one to take home an award. Uzo Aduba won Outstanding Supporting Actress for her character Crazy Eyes in the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black and Regina King was also named supporting actress for here role in American Crime. This is the first time since 1991 that three black women have taken home that many Emmys.
Viola shared her apprehension before the awards ceremony took place. Both she and her friend Taraji P. Henson were nominated for an Emmy in this year’s lineup.
She told ET, “I feel both excited and proud that one of us could be first, but mixed emotions about it being 2015 and we’re [still] talking about it. I just hope this is now a part of the status quo that women of color are included in the narratives that continue to write lead roles for us, to rethink how we see a leading lady and we don’t have to have this discussion anymore.”
She also noted a profound statement that was half joking and half serious, “Being brave is an occupational hazard with me.”
This statement sums up what it’s like to be a black woman and an actress. It takes guts to put yourself out there, but the result for Viola Davis is a historic Emmy victory that could bring us closer to “crossing that line.”
[Image via Mark Davis/GettyImages]