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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 22, 2013 at 6:39PM

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).
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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.

This article is related to: Kerry Washington, TV News, TV Features, Awards


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