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Viola Davis, the star of How to Get Away with Murder, made history at the 67th Emmy awards on Sunday night, becoming the first woman of color to win the Emmy for best actress in a drama series.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said when accepting the award. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

In her speech, Davis began by quoting the civil rights activist Harriet Tubman. “In my dreams and visions,” said the actor, whose voice was charged with emotion, “I seemed to see a line, and on the other side of that line were green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white ladies, who stretched out their arms to me over the line, but I couldn’t reach them no-how.”

Davis went on to thank the showrunners, writers and producers who have created roles for black women in television. “So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shona Rhimes – people who have redefined what it means to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”

She then paid tribute to other actresses of colour including Taraji P Henson, Scandal star Kerry Washington, Meagan Goods and Halle Berry: “Thank you for taking us over that line.”

It was Davis’s first nomination for the Shonda Rhimes show on ABC. Nominees in her category included Taraji P Henson, Claire Danes, Tatiana Maslany, Elisabeth Moss and Robin Wright.

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