Viola Davis is poised to make Emmys history for her starring role in the freshman hit "How to Get Away with Murder." The two-time Oscar nominee ("Doubt," "The Help") and Tony winner ("Fences") sits atop our Best Drama Actress prediction chart. If she prevails, she will be the first African American to win this award.
Davis has the votes of six of our seven Emmy Experts as well as five of our seven Editors, 13 of the Top 24 Users (those two dozen folks who did the best predicting last year's nominations) and two-thirds of all Users. All of that support translates into leading odds of 10/3.
Her closest rival is Golden Globes champ Robin Wright for the third season of "House of Cards." With the votes of one Editor, 6 of the Top 24 and 15% of all Users, she has odds of 9/2. In third place is another past Oscar nominee, Taraji P. Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), who is likely to reap a bid for the first season of the breakout hit "Empire."
The rest of the field is likely to include a pair of two-time past winners of this race — Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife" – 2011, 2014) and Claire Danes ("Homeland" – 2012, 2013) — as well as current Tony Awards contender Ruth Wilson ("Constellations") for the first season of "The Affair."
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In January, Davis became just the second African American to win Best Drama Actress at the SAG Awards. The first to break through the color barrier at SAG had been 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 Danes in 2013 and then last year to Margulies.
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")
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