Powerful female characters are pushing television's boundaries in primetime and Kerry Washington
, Viola Davis
and Taraji P. Henson
are at the center. The three actresses opened up to ET about how their characters have changed public perception of women.
"Our show is about 'Everything that makes you who you are can add to your strength,'" Washington told ET.
Scandal's Olivia Pope (Washington), How to Get Away With Murder's Annalise Keating (Davis) and Empire's Cookie Lyon (Henson) are all career women who don't answer to men in the boardroom or the bedroom. These women take charge in sometimes salacious ways.
"We try to be really tasteful," Washington said of Scandal's love scenes. "The more that lives in your imagination, the more it belongs to you. The more you can see yourself in that situation -- and I think a lot of women want to see themselves in those situations."
Washington's power on screen can also be seen in her real life. She spoke out in support of gay marriage at the GLAAD Media Awards, pointing out that interracial marriage wasn't legal in the United States until 1967.
"So when black people today tell me that they don't believe in gay marriage, the first thing that I say is, 'Please don't let anybody try to get you to vote against your own best interest by feeding you messages of hate,'" Washington said.
Likewise, Davis spoke out when an article in The New York Times
referred to her as "less classically beautiful." The remark was made after Davis fought to include a raw moment on HTGAWM
in which her character Annalise takes off her wig.
"Women came out who were dark skinned with natural hair or whatever hair they had and they were declaring their beauty and they were denouncing being labeled as non-classically beautiful and it made me cry," Davis said. "I look at it every time I need inspiration."
The newest character to the small screen, Taraji's Cookie Lyon, has been an inspiration to men and women thanks to Cookie's grit and honesty.
"She's fighting for herself," Henson said. "She's fighting for her rights. She's fighting for what she thinks is fair, and I think that's why the audience is really taking a liking to her. Because she's a fair girl and you know what you're dealing with when you're talking to Cookie."
The best clue to how audiences are responding to these groundbreaking characters is the ratings. All three shows are in the top 20 this season, and the Empire finale on March 18 was the No. 1 show of the week among viewers aged 18-49.