Zendaya made history last night when she became the youngest person ever to take home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. And though it's hard to believe, her feat marks only the second time a Black actress has won the category—ever.
Per Variety, Viola Davis made history in 2015 when she was awarded the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for her unforgettable performance as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. When Davis accepted her Emmy, she said in her speech, "And let me tell you something, 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."
For comparison, the first Black actor to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series was Bill Cosby in 1966. He subsequently won the same award in 1967 and 1968. In total, a Black actor has won in this category on seven occasions, most recently in 2019, when Billy Porter took home the statuette for Pose.
Though it shouldn't be the case that in the 72-year history of the Emmys only two Black women have ever taken home the top prize for drama acting, hopefully, Zendaya's win is a sign that times are changing.
Luckily, the monumental wins didn't stop there. Watchmen's Regina King found herself a four-time Emmy winner after taking home the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie trophy. Per the Los Angeles Times, King's win tied her with Alfre Woodard for the most acting Emmys won by a Black person throughout the ceremony's history.
Perhaps proof that the Emmys have become more inclusive, Deadline reported that "Emmy nominations for Black performers set a record this year and, in turn, there was a record number of trophies given to Black performers." The publication noted that that "more than 30 people of color" were nominated in acting categories at the Emmys in 2020, which is definitely a move in the right direction.
Of her own Emmy win for Euphoria, Zendaya said in her speech, "I just want to say that there is hope in the young people out there. I know that our TV show doesn't always feel like a great example of that, but there is hope in the young people. And I just want to say to all my peers out there doing the work in the streets, I see you, I admire you, I thank you."
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