Thursday’s 67th Primetime Emmy Awards nominations made history as two African American women — Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) — earned nods for lead actress in a drama series. The nominations set the stage for another history-making moment: the possibility that a black woman could win the Emmy — for the first time — in one of TV’s most competitive categories.
Such a win would be a fitting cap to the 2014-15 television season, which has been a watershed year for diversity on TV thanks to Fox’s smash hit “Empire,” ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” “black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.”
Several other nominations also went to black actors, including Anthony Anderson (“black-ish”), David Oyelowo (“Nightingale”), Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”), Queen Latifah (“Bessie”), Don Cheadle (“House of Lies”) and Uzo Aduba (“Orange Is the New Black”), putting the Emmys in sharp contrast to this year’s Oscar nominations, which were criticized for a startling lack of diversity. But there’s always room for disappointment.
“Empire,” the story of the head of a hip-hop record label and his turbulent family life, had been predicted to be a major player yet managed only three nominations, including Henson’s. The show was blanked in the drama series category, and Terrence Howard, who plays the family patriarch, was also shut out in the lead actor category.
The Twitterverse was not happy. “Empire has been cheated,” went a typical missive. “How was #Empire not nominated?!!”
This is the first time that two black women have earned an Emmy nomination in the same year in this category. It’s about time!
In fact, before Kerry Washington’s 2013 nomination for Scandal, the last black woman to be nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series was Cicely Tyson in 1995. Which is ridiculous. (But let’s also give some props to Tyson for bringing it all full circle by locking in an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series nomination for How To Get Away With Murder!)