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A Black Actress Has Never Won Drama Series Lead Actress Emmy. Will Kerry Washington Be 1st?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
September 22, 2013 6:39 PM
34 Comments
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Scandal S2

The 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards celebration will be held TONIGHT, Sunday, September 22, at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. CBS is broadcasting this year’s show, with Neil Patrick Harris serving as host - his second major awards hosting gig this year (he also hosted the Tony Awards).

Congrats to Kerry Washington (Lead Actress In A Drama Series) and Don Cheadle (Lead Actor In A Comedy Series) for their Primtetime Emmy nominations (specific categories in parentheses), announced over the summer.

This marks Kerry Washington's first ever Emmy nomination, AND the first time a black actress has been nominated in that specific category (Lead Actress In A Drama Series) since the 1994-95 season (the 47th annual Primetime Emmys) when Cicely Tyson was nominated for her work in the NBC legal drama series Sweet Justice

Interestingly, Sweet Justice would run for just one season. And Tyson didn't win. She lost to Kathy Baker for her work in Picket Fences.

Note: a black actress has never won in this category, in the 65 years since the first Primetime Emmys were awarded.

Never! Not once! 

In the Primetime Emmy's 65-year history, black actresses have been nominated just 9 times in that specific category - again, Lead Actress In A Drama Series.

Debbie Allen was the first, and her nomination didn't come until 1982, for Fame. She was the only black actress nominated in that category over the next 3 years - through 1985. All of them were for Fame, but she never won, despite 4 consecutive nominations.

Alfre Woodard was next for St. Elsewhere, nominated in 1986; followed by Regina Taylor, nominated 2 years in a row for I'll Fly Away (1992 and 1993); and then Cicely Tyson's aforementioned nomination for Sweet Justice in 1995.

And of course, Kerry Washington in 2013.

As an aside, I should give props to Diahann Carroll who was the very first black performer (male or female) to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in ANY category. That came in 1963, when she was nominated for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role (what would likely be the equivalent of a guest-starring role on an episode of a TV series) for her appearance in an episode of the TV series Naked City.  Ethel Waters, who was the very first black performer (male or female) to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in ANY category. That came in 1962, when she was nominated for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role (what would likely be the equivalent of a guest-starring role on an episode of a TV series) for her appearance in an episode of the TV series Route 66 (thanks to Kola Boof for the catch).

So what are Kerry Washington's chances of becoming THE first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy for Lead Actress In A Drama Series?

While I certainly wouldn't say her chances are slim, I will say that she's got some tough competition: Connie Britton, Claire Danes, Michelle Dockery, Vera Farmiga, Elisabeth Moss, and Robin Wright. Most of them star in TV series that already have a history of critical acclaim and awards behind them, like Homeland, Mad Men, and Downton Abbey; or series that immediately drew acclaim after they initially aired, like House Of Cards and Bates Motel.

Scandal can claim neither, unfortunately.

But anything is possible, and pure talent isn't the only factor that goes into these decisions. So, who knows, we might be in for a surprise. For example, the Emmys may decide that they want to make a statement and finally give the Emmy for Lead Actress In A Drama Series to a black actress for the first time ever!

Or maybe not.

We'll find out tonight, when I'm sure most of us will be watching to see what happens!

By the way, Don Cheadle was nominated in the same category last year. This year's nomination marks his 6th nomination total.

Alfre Woodard picked up a nomination for her performance in Steel Magnolias, in the Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie category.

And last, but not least, Paris Barclay picked up a nomination in the Directing For A Comedy Series category, for directing Diva, the thirteenth episode of Glee's fourth season.

Notable misses? I thought Regina King had a shot at a nomination this year, for her work in Southland, which was canceled after this last season. 

I'm sure after tonight's broadcast, there'll be the usual debates on who should have won this or that award, but didn't; who was nominated that shouldn't have been in the first place; etc.

I also expect to see the usual articles lamenting the lack of diversity in terms of nominees and eventual winners. Ho-hum.

The Primetime Emmys will be held tonight, Sunday, September 22, at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. CBS is broadcasting this year’s show, starting at 8pm, with Neil Patrick Harris serving as host.

For the full list of nominees, click HERE.

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34 Comments

  • HereNorThere | September 23, 2013 5:38 AMReply

    What happened? Did a Black actress won?

    Hollywierd is a joke

  • FactChecker | September 21, 2013 1:21 PMReply

    Some very interesting comments with regard to black women and the Emmy's. I don't know where to begin. I haven't seen all of the work of the nominees, just Washington, Moss and Britton. And I believe Washington will win. And, of course, it will be political. Everything in our society is. Everyone posting, and writing -- not just here -- but throughout the media, know that Kerry is talented, and Scandal, with its superior writing, talented ensemble cast, and leader, Shonda Rhimes, formed a perfect storm for Kerry to have the opportunity to showcase her talent.

    If she weren't in the running, and it were all white women, that doesn't takeaway from the politics involved of who will win, it simply makes them look different because everyone in the category is white.

    So, for example, one could argue that Elizabeth Moss is beyond deserving for her portrayal of Peggy, because in the way in which she's played the role, it reminds present day audiences of just how difficult it was for white women to get a foothold in the corporate culture of the sixties. But her role also resonates with audiences today because women in general, and black women, in particular, are still fighting the uphill battles, in the boardroom, for the kind of authority, respect, and opportunity that Peggy is fighting for.

    So, from the perspective of Emmy voters, one could argue the brilliance of Moss, and Mad Men, in general, because while they portray the past it's also reflective of the present. And that's brilliance -- as far as I'm concerned -- when a TV show can be entertaining, educational, and enlightening all at once. ... I've never seen Homeland, but the premise is too close to home, for me, in that it involves a situation, or crisis in which we, as Americans, have been living with for over a decade. And, I watch dramas to escape from my life, not relive what's occurring in the real world. So, from that perspective one could argue Danes performance as being good, solid, but it's not really moving the needle. I mean, her character was, probably, written for a white man.

    Anyway, I'm rooting for Kerry. She deserves it as much as anyone. And, like everything else in this business, and this world, it's all subjective. And those who hold the power will, ultimately, decide.

  • CareyCarey | September 21, 2013 5:25 PM

    Factchecker, what was that you called me... "uncultured"? Okay, get ready for another taste of un-culturalism because here comes another blast from the country bumpkin from Iowa.

    First, I am not going to use the seven words you can't say on television -- Sh*t, Piss, Cu*t, F*ck, Cocksu*ker, Motherfu*kers and Tits, but I have to tell you you're talking Geechie. That's right, those who believe Kerry Washington will win this years Emmy and Michael B. Jordan will win an Oscar (or even be nominated) are speaking a foreign language only a few can understand.

  • CC | September 21, 2013 5:23 PM

    Listen, how in hell can you fix your lips to to say Kerry is going to win, while in your own words there's absolutely nothing going in her favor. I mean, I agree, awards of this nature are steeped in politics, so what political proponents does she have in her corner? Who... Scandalistas? Nope, they have absolutely no power. Who... the cable network industry and the actors, directors and producers who work in that growing market? Nope! Their bread is not buttered on that side. Surely you're not suggesting white women who have power over some white men will rally support for her? Nope, even you wouldn't be that naive.

    Speaking of being naive and betting on wishful thinking, what kind of a cultured man would admit to not seeing all the nominees yet appoint Kerry the victor. That's not a smart, nor a wise move.

    In short, it's obvious that you're "educated" (so I can't say you're talking out your ass) but I have doubts about you being a black person. So I'm thinking you're talking Geechie simply to win favor from the black community, especially black women who loves them some Scandal.
    ~ Uncultured CareyCarey

  • Jess | September 19, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    *submits a write-in vote for Keri Russell from "The Americans"*

  • Nadia | September 18, 2013 5:11 PMReply

    LOL! I'm scrolling through the comments to see what folks are saying about the post and all I see is debate about interracial coupling. For real, this happens so much with commenters on this site that I think S&A should just post some factual data on the number of shows in which black women have bee paired with white men, and the number of shows in which black men have been paired with white women, and let's just call it a day so that we can put this whole debate to bed. I'm waiting for Accidental Visitor to jump in soon with his comments too LOL. This is his favorite topic.

  • THE TRUTH | September 18, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    "

    Last time I checked, Hollywood was in the U. S. where people of color are still the minority. Do you expect black actresses to leave the U. S. to find acting jobs? You can't be serious. Obviously you have a problem seeing Black women act with White men. I don't have a problem with it and I know that some black actresses don't either. We will have to agree to disagree on this one. There much more important things to be upset about in this world besides seeing Black women act with White men."

    Read my post above. You're like arguing with a Fox News viewer...blinded by your point and your point only. I wrote that the FACT is white A-list actresses are untouched by non-white hands, while actresses of color are almost exclusively paired with white men. That's THE TRUTH. Has nothing to do with me demeaning women of color, but instead calling attention to inequity and the need for balance. It has nothing to do with looking for work outside of the USA. You can't make a valid argument if you don't care to analyze opposing viewpoints. Again, it is possible to adapt films and franchises to encompass a larger world view and be inclusive of everyone.

    I'm done with you. Some folks only hear what they want to.

  • LL2 | September 18, 2013 5:13 PM

    Akimbo already said it so I didn't feel the need to repeat her. You do know that White men are in charge, right? That means they get to set the rules of the game to suit their interests. But if you have a plan to change all that, more power to you.

  • THE TRUTH | September 18, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    @Akimbo & LL2 - You both missed the point. The discussion has to do with race in film and TV, not interracial dating. The actresses I listed below have been SUBJECTED to racism in the industry…and it has nothing to do with economics. I'm not saying they should limit their careers, but rather that there should be balance and greater opportunities for them other that those as solely white male love interests.

    "First of all, we live in a patriarchal society so most roles for women regardless of their race will be to play the love interest of some man. Second, most of the male actors in Hollywood are white men including most of the top male actors. So logically speaking, if a black actress wanted to work as much as possible and as often as possible, she can't avoid acting opposite a white men."

    Um, white people are between 8-15% of the total global population, with white men comprising less than half of that. So it's not a question of business - it's racism and socialization. And it IS possible to adapt films and franchises to encompass a larger world view (The Fast & the Furious) and be inclusive of everyone.

    The FACT is white A-list actresses are untouched by non-white hands, while actresses of color are almost exclusively paired with white men. That's THE TRUTH. Has nothing to do with me demeaning women of color, but instead calling attention to the inequity and the need for balance which will surely only come from filmmakers who look like us.

    So YES, the role is demeaning in the context of interracial inequality.

    Peace to you & all the other Hollyweird apologists. Checkmate.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 6:44 PM

    So...having white love interests is demeaning to black actresses because white actresses don't have black love interests? Whaaat? I think someone who actually cared about the dignity of black actresses would focus less on who they're romancing onscreen and MORE on the quality of the roles they're being offered.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 6:42 PM

    So...having white love interests is demeaning to black actresses because white actresses don't have black love interests? Whaaat? I think someone who actually cared about the dignity of black actresses would focus less on who they're romancing onscreen and the quality of the roles they're being offered.

  • LL2 | September 18, 2013 4:42 PM

    Last time I checked, Hollywood was in the U. S. where people of color are still the minority. Do you expect black actresses to leave the U. S. to find acting jobs? You can't be serious. Obviously you have a problem seeing Black women act with White men. I don't have a problem with it and I know that some black actresses don't either. We will have to agree to disagree on this one. There much more important things to be upset about in this world besides seeing Black women act with White men.

  • jazzfan360 | September 18, 2013 2:35 PMReply

    Some random facts and thoughts...

    Shocked none of the other females from Steel Magnolias managed a nomination. Alfre's inclusion doesn't surprise me because the Emmys LOVE her and generally, if you look back over her TV career, will nominate her ANYtime she's eligible. (Witness her downright insulting nomination for doing absolutely nothing in a loudly reviled storyline in the second season of Desperate Housewives.)

    Diahann Carroll has been a major groundbreaker on many fronts; her first Emmy nod came one year after she became the first black woman to win a Tony.

    As far as Sweet Justice being acclaimed but only running one season, it's sadly not uncommon for black shows that aren't raucous comedies to pick up traction on network TV even if they're considered top quality. Witness Frank's Place (the last Outstanding Comedy Series nominee to run only one season; winner of three Emmys for its only season, including Writing and Guest Actress - Comedy for Beah Richards) and the great, completely forgotten Gabriel's Fire, for which both James Earl Jones (Lead Actor) and Madge Sinclair (Supporting Actress) won.

    And the comedy side is possibly even more grim than drama. Don't start me on the lack of love for Everybody Hates Chris (Tichina Arnold couldn't even manage a nod for the first season?). A biggie here, for instance, that no one seems to notice is that Jackee Harry is the ONLY minority EVER to win Supporting Actress in a Comedy. Not just black...ANY race but white. And I haven't looked, but off the top of my head I'm pretty sure Vanessa Williams (who, criminally, never won for Ugly Betty) is the only minority nominated since Jackee's second nod in '88.

    The lack of attention is clear...but sadder still is that what this really speaks to is the lack of minorities in mainstream TV over the years. How many dramas can anyone even think of that have been led by a black actress? I'm not at all surprised there's never been a win in that category.

  • THE TRUTH | September 18, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    "None of that makes Kerry Washington more or less deserving of an Emmy."

    Nobody said she wasn't deserving. But she wouldn't get that same acknowledgement in a dignified role.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 3:20 PM

    Undignified? Either you've never seen the show or you don't understand the concept of a protagonist having a weakness. Do you take issue with Edie Falco winning awards for the undignified role of Nurse Jackie? James Gandolfini for Tony Soprano? He had affairs, too you know. AND killed people. Kevin Spacey, House of Cards? Kelsey Grammar, Boss? Everyone on Breaking Bad? Every character on every premium cable show ever? Or is it only undignified and unworthy of accolades when you're a black woman whose character, has an affair with a white man? Nevermind the other things that character does, she let a white man touch her, so she's garbage.

  • Tyler | September 18, 2013 1:31 PMReply

    I remain dismayed that Andra Fuller didn't submit himself for his brilliant work on the second season of L.A. Complex. In my mind, he gave one of the finest lead performances in a drama series in 2012 and deserved a nomination. His chances of getting one were practically non-existent given the show's abysmal ratings and it being a CW-affiliated show, but the work stands up to anything Hamm and Cranston are doing.

  • CareyCarey | September 18, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    "While I certainly wouldn't say her chances are slim, I will say that she's got some tough competition"

    While I certainly wouldn't say the reverse Mandigo issue is not an issue, I will say her chances of winning are about as slim as Oprah winning this years Oscar. Opps...wait a minute, Oprah (from what I've been reading) is actually in the lead pack, but not Kerry Washington. I believe her nomination is nothing but a dry bone for the black community to chew on - which serves to quiet their **coughwhinningcough**.

    I am serious, although I haven't seen all the actresses in her category, I did see every episode of House of Cards. Robin Wright's performance in that series - alone - positions Kerry as a also-ran. And, I believe Robin is not even the favorite to win the award.

    Heck, I liked Kerry better in "Peeples" than that thang she does in Scandal, but my mother and sister love them some Scandal.

  • The Truth | September 18, 2013 11:32 AMReply

    Sure she will. As long as the woman of color is sleeping with a white man, two thumbs up!
    smh...

  • THE TRUTH | September 19, 2013 12:10 PM

    @NO BRAINER ( or NO BRAINS?) You're either white of self-hating. I haven't written anything ignorant. The facts simply offend your whitewashed, compliant sensibilities.

    Go back to watching Madea and leave the grown folks be.

  • NO BRAINER | September 19, 2013 12:25 AM

    DA TRUTH

    Since when the truth is synonymous with pure, unashamed ignorance? Please go find a corner and die. Help make the world a better place.

  • CareyCarey | September 18, 2013 3:12 PM

    Okay Akimbo, you've presented a good argument so we'll have to move on from this one. But what's your opinion (I know I am going off subject, what's new...) but what's your opinion on the white men screwing up the Marvin Gaye biopic, and their inclusion in the upcoming James Brown biopic? Are you in the crowd who believe a white director can do those subjects justice?

    Btw, Truth is not my buddy *LOL*... today we're just walking down similar streets.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 2:59 PM

    @CareyCarey, your buddy Truth is the one who muddied the waters, since the post is actually just about black actresses winning Emmys and not who the characters they portray are screwing. So if you got issues about deviating from the topic, take them up with him.

    Again, about white actresses being afraid of on-screen romances with black men: WHITE MEN RUN THE INDUSTRY (and are the majority of Emmy voters).

    I never said race doesn't matter. I actually went into how it does and why. I don't even know why you would try to scold me with "race does matter" when you tried to tell me not to blame this issue on the white man. If the fact that popular media likes to see beautiful black (white, latin, Asian, etc) women paired with white men is not the fault of the white men who run the industry, then whose is it? Black actresses? Please.

  • LL2 | September 18, 2013 2:26 PM

    @The Truth

    Let's try to analyze what you are saying here. First of all, we live in a patriarchal society so most roles for women regardless of their race will be to play the love interest of some man. Second, most of the male actors in Hollywood are white men including most of the top male actors. So logically speaking, if a black actress wanted to work as much as possible and as often as possible, she can't avoid acting opposite a white men. Now you seem to be saying that black actresses should basically limit their career to playing only romantic roles that are love interests of black men. Basically black actresses should put aside their professional aspirations to make you feel better to fit your concept of fighting racism. In other words, their careers are all about you.

  • CareyCarey | September 18, 2013 2:17 PM

    1-2-3... check-check-check, is this thing working?

    Listen Akimbo, your attempt at muddling the dance floor is not working. I mean, although you're trying to frame this as a "white men who run the industry" thing, they (white men) ARE NOT the only ones who vote. So spare me from the "blame it on the white man" thang.

    Probably, more importantly, I noticed you didn't list all your other "talented black actors" who every white actress is dying to jump his bones - on screen. Do you know why? I do. Unlike white men who can bare their chest with an array of black women, white actresses know damn well they MAY get a pass (which I don't believe is true)for laying down with Denzel and every-bodies smiling negro Will Smith, but they'd be burned at the stake, cast to the wind, ostracized to the edge of hell if they EVER laid down with any black man other than them two. So the point is, this is not true-->"None of that makes Kerry Washington more or less deserving of an Emmy"... because race always matters, even if it doesn't fit your agenda.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 2:11 PM

    @The Truth, see my response below. I moved on from dating. The issue is not that "black women have to play a white man's [insert sexist insult here] to get ahead," it's that white men control the industry and want to tell all stories from their perspective/seek to fulfill their own fantasies onscreen. If the gatekeepers become a more diverse group, the interracial pairings on the largest platforms will no longer be limited to "white man and ethnic woman."

    People need to stop blaming black actresses for the way the system is set up.

  • THE TRUTH | September 18, 2013 1:47 PM

    @LL2 - Whether or not they have a problem with it is irrelevant. In Hollyweird, they HAVE TO. I was pointing out the racism that exists, that's all.

    @Akimbo - I'm not bitter about interracial dating...of course, you missed the point. I'm talking about mainstream acting. We should ALL be bitter about the dynamic I posted...but only briefly. Then we should hold our "Black Entertainment Gatekeepers" feet to the fire to provide more balance. We sure won't get it elsewhere...

  • sthn | September 18, 2013 1:47 PM

    I don't give a damn who black women date. Cause I'm gonna date who the hell I want too. Any asian women out there so I can do some cosplay fun? Nevermind, they don't date brotha's. And the truth you forgot Rashida Jones.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 1:44 PM

    It's nothing fishy about it: white men run the industry, they want to see themselves with all the beautiful women. You think a white actress wouldn't kill to play love interest to Will Smith, Denzel, or any of the other beautiful and talented black (or latin) men working in the industry? Once again, it's all about what men want and so is your comment.

    None of that makes Kerry Washington more or less deserving of an Emmy.

  • LL2 | September 18, 2013 1:39 PM

    Why do you care what black actresses do? If they don't have problem working with white men why should you? You don't have to work with white men if you don't want to.

  • CareyCarey | September 18, 2013 1:38 PM

    UT OH! The Truth is bringing the real thang up in here, up in here!

    So what ye black women defenders have to say about that bit of mind blowing insight. Particularly, why do our black leading ladies have to drop it like it's hot - to white men - while A-list white actresses step back if it's a-black-thing (pun intended).

    I mean, something is very fishy about those dynamics....and hopefully a black woman will have the courage to tell the whole truth.

    And come to think about it, didn't Margot Kidder (back in the day) get sort of blacklisted for sleeping with Richard Pryor in Some Kind Of Hero?

  • THE TRUTH | September 18, 2013 12:49 PM

    Some food for though about your beloved Hollywood...

    A-list white actresses never get w/black men in movies...Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lawerence, Kristen Stewart, Emma Stone, Charlize Theron, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Rachael McAdams, Katherine Heigl, Reese Witherspoon, and Mila Kunis...none have so much as KISSED a black man in movies, from what I can tell. But the A-List black (and Latina) actresses always have to give it up to white boys in movies and on TV - Kerry Washington, Rosario Dawson, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union, Zoe Saldana, Sanaa Lathan, Thandie Newton, Queen Latifah, Lela Rochon, Lisa Bonet etc. And that's off the head…I can think of many more.

    So yeah, you should be disgusted.

  • August Wasoba | September 18, 2013 12:41 PM

    @TheTruth facepalm with some disgust on the side.

  • Akimbo | September 18, 2013 11:51 AM

    It's hilarious how bitter SOME black men get about black women dating white men. I mean, black women ain't shit anyway, right? White women don't have bad attitudes, keep themselves in shape, have good credit, have goals, have aspirations, cater to their men, and give that good Becky, so why you even mad?

    ANYWAY, back to Kerry. She might just win it. I didn't expect her to get nominated, but she did, and the show is so hot right now...She doesn't really deserve it, but she might take it anyway and I'm fine with that. If Jon Cryer can win umpteen Emmys while Community and Happy Endings are completely overlooked, I'm all for someone I like stealing a trophy.

  • Jay | September 18, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    I'm all for Kerry but I think Robin Wright should and will get it for House of Cards

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