Viola Davis Becomes First Black Woman to Win Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series

“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” the “How to Get Away with Murder” star says

Last Updated: September 21, 2015 @ 11:34 AM

Viola Davis thanked the black women who have broken barriers before her during a moving Emmy acceptance speech for Lead Actress in a Drama Series on Sunday.

At the beginning of her emotional speech, the “How to Get Away With Murder” star quoted the 19th-century abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman.

“In my mind, I see a line,” she said. “And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me to get 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. The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity.”

Davis’ win marks the first time a black woman has received an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and the first Emmy Davis has won. The actress continued her acceptance speech praising various black actresses as well as behind-the-scenes stars.

“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” said Davis, a two-time Oscar nominee. “Here is to all the writers, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes … People who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to all the Taraji P. Hensons and Kerry Washingtons … to Gabriel Union, thank you for taking us over that line.”

Bill Cosby was the first African-American actor to win an acting award in any category, which he won for three consecutive years for his role on “I Spy” in the 1960s.

The first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series was Isabel Sanford for her role in “The Jeffersons” in 1981.

Davis won for her role in ABC’s mystery drama “How to Get Away With Murder,” and beat out Henson (“Empire”), Claire Danes (“Homeland”), Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Robin Wright (“House of Cards”).

In an interview with TheWrap in June, Davis had opened up about stereotypes in casting, as well as in general, saying that too often “African-American are just not part of the equation.”

“It’s not anything that is just perpetuated by White America or just perpetuated by Black America,” Davis said. “It’s just a cultural understanding that you’re just not a part of the equation when it comes to sexuality and I think that people mistake your lack of opportunity with the level of your talent. And it’s not true. If the opportunity is not out there for you to play it, then you don’t see it. If you give someone the opportunity in a narrative to be able to show that range, I’m telling you, they’ll go for it. The people who are talented will go for it.”

Don’t miss the best moments from the 2015 Emmy Awards — read TheWrap’s complete coverage here.

Also: See TheWrap Magazine’s Fall TV Issue complete coverage:

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