Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson Make Emmy History With ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ ‘Empire’ Roles

Nominations mark first time ever two African-American women are recognized in the lead actress drama category

Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis have made history.

The “Empire” and “How to Get Away With Murder” stars both received Emmy nominations in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category Thursday morning, marking the first time two African-American actresses have made the list in the same year.

Either woman could make history again when the awards are handed out in September, as no African-American has ever won the category in the history of its existence. It wasn’t until 1982, the Emmy’s 34th year, that a black actress even received a nomination (Debbie Allen for “Fame”).

Kerry Washington’s 2013 nomination for her role in ABC’s “Scandal” was the first nomination for an African-American actress in the category in 18 years (following Cicely Tyson’s nomination for “Sweet Justice” in 1995), leading many to hope the actress would be the category’s first black winner. The award ultimately went to Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife.”

Washington received another nod in 2014, but failed to break into the category this year.

Henson stars as Cookie Lyon, the hot-headed Lyon family matriarch, in “Empire,” the Fox breakout hit of the season. Davis plays law school professor Annalise Keating in ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” the latest project from Shondaland, the production company behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.”

TheWrap sat down with Davis last month for TheWrap Magazine’s Emmy Cover, and the actress explained that she doesn’t set out to defy stereotypes. She is making history by just doing her best work.

“I’m not trying to defy odds,” Davis said. “I feel like I just move through life doing what I do and I think that, in doing that to the best of your ability, I think that’s the most progressive thing that you could do in your life.”

In an interview with TheWrap before a live performance and Q&A session in Los Angeles, Henson talked about taking on the role of Cookie and why it was so appealing.

“I was scared to death. I struggled with it because I was like, ‘Oh, my God. She is so ghetto.’ But then I was like, ‘But she’s so real. She speaks the truth,’” she said.

See Viola’s cover story from Wrap Magazine: