“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.”
On Sunday night, Viola Davis got over that line. Davis made history, becoming the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Davis merged vulnerability, toughness, swagger and forcefulness into her role as Annalise Keating and powered the runaway locomotive How To Get Away With Murder. In her moving speech, she highlighted the most poignant and universal fact for Black actresses working in Hollywood.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Davis’ victory is an example of how deep the well of Black talent runs and how quenching it is when given an opportunity. Her talent was never in question. She first made her mark on Broadway, appearing in August Wilson’s King Hedley II and winning a Tony Award in 2001 for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play. She created a seismic tremor with her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Doubt, holding her ground against screen legend Meryl Streep. Davis’ powerful but understated performance took only one, eight minute scene to resonate.
This led to Davis’ compiling critical acclaim and popular demand with notable appearances in Prisoners, Get On Up and The Help, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. With her upcoming role as Amanda Waller in next year’s Suicide Squad and future DCEU films to come, Davis’ appeal is just starting to hit critical mass.
Davis received a majority of the limelight, but she wasn’t the only Black actor or actress to win Sunday night. Joining Davis in the winner’s circle was Regina King, who won Outstanding Supporting Actress In a Miniseries Series for American Crime, Uzo Aduba, who won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Orange Is The New Black and Reg E. Cathey who won Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for House of Cards. The Dee Rees directed biopic, Bessie, won an award for Outstanding Television Movie.
For months, the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards were promoted and advertised as a showcase of diversity with so many Black talents being nominated. There was no bait and switch— it lived up to the hype. Hopefully, this bodes well for future Black talent to cross that line.