The big winner of last night’s Emmy Awards, in pretty much every possible way, was Viola Davis. Accepting the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, Davis spoke in poetry, invoking Harriet Tubman—and also Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union—and uttering two sentences that will likely be remembered for years to come: “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.”
Another thing that made the speech so powerful: Davis was sent to the stage not only with thunderous applause from the occupants of the Microsoft Theater, but also with a standing ovation of one: her fellow nominee, Taraji P. Henson.
The women may have been competitors, but Henson—Cookie on Empire—made clear that the far more salient point was that they were fellow nominees. They were both contenders to be the first black woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama. Davis, for her work in How to Get Away With Murder, happened to be the one to win the honor.
So while Henson did not win an Emmy last night, she distinguished herself in another way: She was a nominee who seemed genuinely happy for her fellow nominee. She applauded Davis, passionately. She rose to her feet when no one else did. She made clear that she was rising because Davis’s win was, in its way, a win for her, too.