Taraji P. Henson lights up the screen as Cookie Lyon, the outspoken ex-wife of hip hop mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), on the hit show “Empire,” which just won Program of the Year from the TV Critics Assn. For her powerhouse performance, this one-time Oscar contender (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” 2008) reaped an Emmy nomination as Best Drama Actress. She is the pick of three of our Experts — Matthew Jacobs (Huffington Post), Lynette Rice (Entertainment Weekly) and Jarret Wieselman (BuzzFeed) — to prevail on Sept. 20.
The actress has chosen her episode submission well, entering the pilot for consideration by Emmy voters. Cookie emerges from a 17-year stretch in prison for drug dealing, determined to reclaim her share of Empire Entertainment and bring the family back together. Henson shines in every scene she is in, establishing her character as the one to watch.
In 2011, Henson was nominated for Best Movie/Mini Actress for the telefilm “Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story”; she lost to Kate Winslet (“Mildred Pierce”). While five African American woman have won that award — Cicely Tyson (“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” 1974); Lynne Whitfield (“The Josephine Baker Story,” 1991); Alfre Woodard (“Miss Evers’ Boys,” 1997); Halle Berry (“Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” 2000); and S. Epatha Merkerson (“Lackawanna Blues,” 2005) — none has taken home Best Drama Actress.
Henson’s strongest competition this year is another African American actress: Viola Davis for the freshman season of “How to Get Away with Murder.” That hit ABC series is produced by Shonda Rhimes, who is also responsible for “Scandal,” a political drama on the alphabet net that showcases Kerry Washington. We expected Washington to 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”)
Who do you think will win Best Drama Actress? Henson competes in a category with two-time champ Danes (“Homeland“), previous nominees Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men“) and Robin Wright (“House of Cards“), and newcomers Davis and Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black“).
Make your own Emmys picks now starting with this category to the right or at the bottom of this post.
You could win one of our three prizes ($500, $300 and $200 Amazon gift certificates) as well as a place of honor on our leaderboard and a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Emmys line-up).
Meet the guy who won our contest to predict the Emmys last year — and learn how he did it and how you can be our next Gold Derby superstar.
Register/log in to your Gold Derby account so you can also compete to predict the Tonys, “Game of Thrones” and more.
Last year, our Experts had an accuracy rate of 58.62% when it came to predicting the Emmy winners. That score tied them with both Gold Derby’s Editors and the Top 24 Users (those two dozen folks who did the best at predicting last year’s Emmys). Our Users scored 51.72% (Click on any of these groups to see what they got right and wrong last year.)
Which group will be victorious this year?
As some of our Users turn out to be our smartest prognosticators, it’s important that you give us your predictions. Your picks influence our Users racetrack odds, which also factor into our official combined odds.
Photo: Taraji P. Henson in “Empire.” Credit: Everett/REX Shutterstock