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History Viola Davis Is First Black Woman To Win Emmy For Best Actress In A Drama

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Viola Davis play

Viola Davis

"The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity"

Viola Davis made history at Sunday night's Emmy Awards when she won for best actress in a drama for How to Get Away With Murder: It's the first time that award has gone to a black woman.

When Davis' award was announced, Taraji P. Henson  nominated for the same award for her work on Empire gave Davis a fierce hug and a one-woman standing ovation.

NPR's Eric Deggans wrote earlier this week that a win by either Davis or Henson would be a first "basically because black women haven't had many starring roles in TV dramas until recently."

In her acceptance speech, Davis said, "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.[ Applause ] You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

She thanked her peers, black actresses, like Henson, Kerry Washington, and others, who have had to fight very hard to fill the very few roles they could. She thanked her writers and Shonda Rhimes (Murder's producer) for redefining "what it means to be beautiful... to be a leading woman... to be black."

But the lines that stand out are her indictments of systemic disenfranchisement: "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."

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