During Sunday night’s Emmy awards, I was one of many viewers parked in from of my flatscreen anticipating the typical dazzling red carpet looks and the usual wins and upsets, but the evening emerged as a particularly exciting night for African American women. I was especially proud and applauded the amazing show of sisterhood. It’s rare to see so many of us nominated for television’s highest awards. I smiled at the clear demonstration of sisterhood when Taraji P. Henson announced Regina King’s first nomination and first Emmy win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series in American Crime. It’s worth noting that no African American has won this category in 11 years — the last being Cicely Tyson in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994).
Uzo Aduba takes home an Emmy for her role on Orange is the New Black. (Photo: Getty)
I cheered along with Henson when she showed a heartwarming display of sisterhood and camaraderie along with a congratulatory hug. I cried with Uzo Aduba, when she accepted her second Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama in Orange Is the New Black — an accomplishment that hasn’t happened since 1993. My proudest moment, however, was when Viola Davis made history as the first African American woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Drama Series for her role in How to Get Away with Murder. She delivered the most powerful speech of the night, eloquently sharing a quote from Harriet Tubman in the 1800s, saying, “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.”
Viola Davis gave an empowering speech to celebrate her Best Actress win for How to Get Away with Murder. (Photo: Getty)
In her acceptance speech, Davis went on to say, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You can’t win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people — Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes — people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading women, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union, thank you for taking us over that line.”
Regina Ling won an Emmy for her role on American Crime. (Photo: Getty)
In essence, Davis’s speech transcends actresses and is relevant to all African American women today. To be in an industry dominated primarily by white males, limiting the availability of roles because they simply were not made for you — and rarely being recognized for the work you do get — it’s clear that these women have had to rely on each other for support. They have been cheerleaders for each other and their shoulders’ on which to cry. They’ve become extended family, so when one wins, they all win. They made that very clear.