At the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, not one but two African American women actors snagged SAG awards for their leading roles. Viola Davis won Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for her role in How to Get Away With Murder while Uzo Aduba won the same award in the comedy category for Orange Is the New Black.
As a woman of color who fangirls over both shows, it was a moment of relief in an award season that has otherwise been underwhelming. Though the Academy may be late to the diversity party in its move to pick predominantly white and male nominees this year, it’s refreshing to see that other award-granting bodies like the Screen Actors Guild are more willing to recognize the contributions of non-white actors.
And per usual, Davis killed it in her acceptance speech, using her time on stage to call attention to the lack of black women leads:
It starts from the top up, so I’d like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Bill D’Elia and Pete Norwalk for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African American woman who looks like me.
Her words were met with a burst of applause from the crowd.
She’s only the third woman of color to win in this category, the first two being Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson in separate years for their roles in Grey’s Anatomy, which is—you guessed it—another Shonda Rhimes-helmed show.
This year’s SAGs also made history when Aduba was presented with her award later in the ceremony, making it the first time both lead actress titles were given to black women.
In a society where women of color actors are called things like “less classically beautiful” by myopic culture writers, industry breakthroughs like the ones last night serve to remind everyone that ultimately “you define you.”
Screenshot taken from Viola Davis’s acceptance speech
Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.