Way to go, girl. Taraji P. Henson is elated that Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 2015 Emmys. But, she admits, a nominee in the category herself, getting to hold that trophy onstage would have been a dream come true.
“It was bittersweet because we all want to make history and be important to society,” Henson, 45, said during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Tuesday, Sept. 22. “But then I was thinking about it, like, ‘It’s 2015. We have a black president and no black woman has ever won in this category. This is weird!’ So when I went into it I knew I was being nominated alongside Viola. I just thought, ‘God, please just give it to one of us so we’ll never have to say that again!’ Let’s just break this barrier down and keep on pushing.”
Davis, 50, took home the win for her role on the ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder. Henson — the only other African-American nominated in the category — was recognized for her work as sassy Cookie in the Fox hit Empire.
A teary-eyed Henson, like so many others, gave Davis a standing ovation when her name was called at the star-studded show Sunday night. Davis became emotional, and quoted Harriet Tubman during her acceptance speech.
“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. That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s,” Davis said at the time. “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.”
The Help actress also gave a shout-out to other black actresses, including Scandal’s Kerry Washington (also watching, rapt, in the audience that night), Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Halle Berry, and Henson herself.
“I think the universe is happy,” Henson told DeGeneres on Tuesday. “Viola deserved that reward, and, honestly, I would have felt weird if I had gotten it over her. She’s been doing it longer and you just have to give respect and know when your time is.”
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