Viola Davis became just the second African American to win Best TV Drama Actress at the SAG Awards, claiming the prize Sunday for her starring role in “How to Get Away with Murder.” The first to break through the color barrier was Chandra Wilson, a featured player on “Grey’s Anatomy,” who won this award in 2006. (SAG does not differentiate between lead and supporting on the TV side).
However, Wilson was unable to parlay this victory into an Emmy, despite four consecutive bids in the Supporting Actress category. She lost in 2005 and 2006 to Blythe Danner (“Huff”), in 2007 to co-star Katherine Heigl and in 2008 to Dianne Wiest (“In Treatment”).
While four African American women have won that Emmy race — Gail Fisher (“Mannix,” 1970); Alfre Woodard (“Hill Street Blues,” 1983), Madge Sinclair (“Gabriel’s Fire,” 1991) and Mary Alice (“I’ll Fly Away,” 1993) — none has ever prevailed for Best Drama Actress.
Both Davis and Wilson are in hit ABC shows produced by Shonda Rhimes. That prolific powerhouse is also responsible for “Scandal,” a political drama on the alphabet net that showcases Kerry Washington. We expected that she would be the one to finally end the Emmy shut-out for African American women in this category but she lost, first to Claire Danes (“Homeland”) in 2013 and then last year to Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”).
Prior to Washington, only four African American women had been nominated for this top TV prize:
Debbie Allen (“Fame”)
1982; lost to Michael Learned (“Nurse”)
1983: lost to Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey”)
1984: lost to Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey”)
1985: lost to Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey”)
Alfred Woodard (“St. Elsewhere”)
1986: lost to Sharon Gless (“Cagney & Lacey”)
Regina Taylor (“I’ll Fly Away”)
1992: lost to Dana Delany (“China Beach”)
1993: lost to Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”)
Cicely Tyson (“Sweet Justice”)
1995: lost to Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”)
All of these nominations but for Tyson’s predated the SAG Awards. She contended at the inaugural awards in 1994 for “Sweet Justice” but lost to Baker. Supporting player Della Reese (“Touched By an Angel”) lost at SAG in 1995 to Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) and in 1996 to Julianna Marguiles (“ER”). She also lost her Emmy bids in 1997 (to Kim Delaney, “NYPD Blue”) and 1998 (to Camryn Mannheim, “The Practice”).
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