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Emmys 2017
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Viola Davis reflects on her empowering Emmy speech

This was the year the ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ star made Emmy history. In her own words, Viola Davis explains how she winged a speech for the ages.

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We said goodbye to Don Draper and hello to Adele. Doughnuts were licked, and dinos were vanquished. And whether we were getting to know Supergirl or supervillains (looking at you, Robert Durst), 2015 turned our emotions Inside Out. So join us as we revisit the year’s most unforgettable moments—for better or worse. (By the time we’re through, maybe we’ll finally have our invitation to join Taylor’s #squad.) See more Best of 2015 coverage.

I always tell the young kids on How to Get Away with Murder: I’m an OG — original gangster — meaning that I’ve been around the block. I’ve given 50 million speeches in 50 million different situations. I’ve had a 30-year career where I’ve played to audiences just as big as L.A. Live., so I relied on experience and I didn’t write anything down for this.

I thought about the Harriet Tubman quote because my production company with my husband — my husband and I have a production company, JuVee Productions — and one of our projects with HBO and Amblin Entertainment is Harriet Tubman. When we sealed the deal, our producers from Amblin sent flowers and a quote from Harriet Tubman, and that was the quote, “In my vision, I see a line. I see green fields and lovely flowers.” I remember they wrote that quote, and they said, “Here’s to taking Harriet over that line.” To me, that quote just made me burst out into tears, because I felt it was so apropos to what is going on today and for that moment.

When you’re at a deficit, you’re always wanting to cross over that line, to get to that glass ceiling, for your talent to be recognized, for your humanity to be recognized, that’s what you’re always fighting for. This is the first time an actress of color has ever won in that category. We just want to be seen on the same level as our Caucasian counterparts. That’s it. I felt like that quote right there was the perfect lead in.

Then I really, really had to sell home the fact that talent and opportunity are two completely different things. Just because you don’t see it out there in lead roles, doesn’t mean you can’t play it. It’s just that a lot of times, we haven’t been given the opportunity. If the opportunity has been there in terms of pilots or whatever, it’s the quality of the narrative, it’s the expansiveness of that narrative, it’s opportunity.

And I wanted to absolutely acknowledge the woman of color who are up there leading the charge, who are trying to change the game, who are fighting the good fight. I said, OK, one, two, three — if I can get those three ideas out in my limited time span that I have for a speech, I think that’s marking the moment pretty well.


As told to Natalie Abrams.

To continue reading more on EW’s Best and Worst of 2015, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly or buy it here.