While all 20 acting nominees competing for an Oscar this year are white — for the first time in nearly 20 years — two women of color made history at the SAG Awards last night for their amazing work on the small screen. For the first time ever, both lead actress titles in television, comedy and drama, were won by black women.
Viola Davis received the outstanding lead drama actress award for her role in Shondaland’s How to Get Away with Murder, while Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba won in the comedy category for remarkable portrayal of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black.
Variety reports that Davis is the third actress of color to be awarded the outstanding lead actress prize; “Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy won the award in 2005, followed by Chandra Wilson in 2006, who won for the same show. Those two victories — along with Davis’ — were all for series produced by Shonda Rhimes.”
Kudos to Shonda Rhimes’ incredible work behind the scenes, which is revolutionizing what television looks like. Davis thanked Rhimes – and the other How to Get Away with Murder producers – “for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me.”
Davis also spoke about the significance of diversity when she walked the red carpet for the event: “It starts with the casting. It starts with the narratives. The narratives have got to be inclusive,” Davis said on the red carpet, moments before her big win. “We’re in the 21st century now. People are multicultural now. We know more now about the world and what the world looks like, and it’s got to be reflected in the scripts.”
Uzo Aduba’s speech also touched on the importance – and beauty – of diversity onscreen when she thanked her show’s creator: “I want to thank Jenji Kohan for writing a show like this and putting something like this on television, not just for myself, but for our incredible team of actors to be seen in such a beautiful way.” The Orange is the New Black team of actors went home with the comedy ensemble award. Queen Latifah (Bessie) also took home individual award on the night.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Sunday’s awards ceremony recognized a woman with the special honor of the Screen Actor’s Guild lifetime achievement award. Screen legend Debbie Reynolds accepted the award from Carrie Fisher, her daughter. Reynolds, who has shockingly never won an Oscar, outright or honorary, identified her favorite movies as Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She most recently appeared onscreen in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra.