Viola Davis Makes History As First Black Woman to Win Outstanding Lead Actress Award at 2015 Emmys

by Emily Krauser 8:40 PM PDT, September 20, 2015
Playing Viola Davis Makes History As First Black Woman to Win Outstanding Lead Actress Award at 2015 Emmys

Viola Davis made history at the 2015 Emmy Awards on Sunday.

The 50-year-old actress-producer won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, making her the first African-American woman to ever win an award in that category.

WATCH: Viola Davis Says 'I Deserve to Be' at Emmys

"In my mind, I see a line," Davis began her speech, quoting Harriet Tubman. "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."

"Let me tell you something," the actress continued, "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."

Photo: Getty Images

She thanked writers and showrunners like Peter Nowalk and Shonda Rhimes for being "people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black."

Davis went on to mention Empire's Taraji P. Henson, who stayed standing and clapping throughout Davis' speech, and Scandal's Kerry Washington, who visibly teared up at the stirring words, and thanked them along with fellow actresses Halle Berry, Nicole Beharie, Meagan Good and Garbielle Union for "taking us over that line."

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This was the first win and nomination for the Julliard-trained actress, who ended her speech by thanking the Television Academy for the award. The Tubman reference was apropos, as Davis is developing a movie about her for HBO.

ET caught up with Davis backstage after her win, where she joked that she hopes her 5-year-old daughter, Genesis Tennon, doesn't break the statue. Keeping an even keel about the win, she also told Kevin Frazier, "I'm going to have to continue to be an actor."

In becoming the first black woman to win in the leading actress category, Davis beat this year's fellow nominees Henson, Claire Danes (Homeland), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Robin Wright (House of Cards).

MORE: 14 Times Viola Was a Total Badass on How to Get Away With Murder

Celebs reacted almost immediately with their share of congratulations and accolades for the Emmy winner, many of which were shared on Twitter:

WATCH: How to Get Away With Murder Is About to Get Even Juicier

Earlier in the night, Henson told ET just what winning this award would mean to her and Davis. "It's an important moment. I just feel like I want it to happen tonight, either for myself or Viola so we can get past it, so it's not big news anymore. I mean, it is 2015. We have a black president."

Watch Henson gush more about Davis in the video below.