The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards show airs on Sunday and we can’t wait to check out the red carpet looks, see if our favorite stars, shows, and miniseries are taking home trophies, and of course, catch what gems will be dropped in those acceptance speeches.
Shockingly (or perhaps not shocking at all), only about 35 Black women have taken home Primetime Emmy Awards in the 73 years the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has been recognizing achievements in acting and production.
This figure goes across both the creative arts and performance awards, as only a small handful of Black women have been recognized in categories such as comedy screenwriting (only one, Winifred Hervey, has won in the category for Outstanding Comedy Series for her work on The Golden Girls in 1987), hairstyling (Sabana Majeed and Charlene Belmond in 2019, Araxi Lindsey in 2020, and Tene Wilder just this year), and documentary filmmaking (Jacqueline Glover, still the only Black woman to win in this category, has taken the honor twice).
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 09: Lena Waithe (L) and Ava DuVernay attend the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
As we gear up for a ceremony with a record-breaking number of Black actors in particular nominated – HBO’s now-canceled Lovecraft Country has at least one Black actor nominated in each dramatic acting category this year – take a closer look at the few Black women who have carried us here over the years:
Gail Fisher – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
The first Black woman to EVER win an Emmy, Gail Fisher took home the trophy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1970 for her role on Mannix in 1970. She was also the first Black actress to be nominated in this category.
Cicely Tyson – Three Total Emmy Wins
Over the course of her illustrious life and career, Cicely Tyson garnered 16 total nominations and three wins: as the first Black woman to both be nominated and first to win in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in 1974 for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a special award for Actress of the Year the same year, and for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in 1994 for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020.
Olivia Cole – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Olivia Cole was the first Black Woman to be be nominated and the first to win in this category for her role in Roots in 1977.
Isabel Sanford: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
To date, Isabel Sanford remains the only Black woman to ever win in this category since her 1981 honor for her role as Louise Jefferson on the classic comedy, The Jeffersons.
Alfre Woodard – 4 Total Emmy Wins
An accomplished and decorated actress, Alfre has been nominated for an Emmy 17 times and has taken home the trophy on four separate occasions: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1984 for Hill Street Blues, for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 1987 for an appearance on LA Law and again in the same category in 2003 for The Practice, and for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in 1997 for Miss Evers’ Boys.
Jackée Harry – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jackée Harry took home the trophy for her classic role on 227 at the 39th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 1987.
Beah Richards – 2 Emmy Wins
In two groundbreaking wins, Beah Richards was the first Black actress to be recognized in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category for her role in Frank’s Place in 1988, and only the second to win in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series category for her part on The Practice in 2000.
Lynn Whitfield – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
With her transformative performance as Josephine Baker in The Josephine Baker Story, Lynn Whitfield was only the second Black woman to take home the honor in this category at the 1991 Emmys.
Mary Alice – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
A fixture on our screens since the mid-1970’s, Mary Alice was rewarded for her work on I’ll Fly Away in 1993.
Madge Sinclair – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Though we know her most affectionately as the Queen of Zamunda, Madge Sinclair was crowned Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Gabriel’s Fire in 1991.
Judith Jamison – Outstanding Choreography
The only other Black woman to take home the trophy besides Debbie Allen, Judith Jamison was given the honor in 1999 for her work on Dance in America: A Hymn for Alvin Ailey (Great Performances).
Ja’Net Dubois – 2 Honors for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance
A legendary and accomplished actress, Ja’Net Dubois broke ground as the first Black performer of any gender to be nominated, and subsequently, the first to win in the category for her voice work on The PJ’s. She won in both 1999 and 2001.
Wanda Sykes – Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series
A comedic genius in her own right, Wanda Sykes has garnered 14 nominations over the years. Her work on The Chris Rock Show won her the single Emmy she holds for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series in 1999.
Halle Berry – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Halle took home the honor for her career-defining turn as Hollywood icon Dorothy Dandridge in HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 2000.
Sharon Epatha Merkerson – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Veteran stage, film, and television actress S. Epatha Merkerson has starred in some of your favorite crime and medical series since the early 90’s. She took home the honor in 2005 for her moving role in HBO film Lackawanna Blues.
Loretta Divine – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
A master of both comedy and drama, Loretta Divine took home the honor of Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2011 for her role on Grey’s Anatomy.
Queen Latifah – Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Queen Latifah checked off he “E” on her EGOT list with her HBO biopic production, Bessie, which she both starred in and co-produced.
Viola Davis – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Viola Davis previously snagged an Academy Award for only about 3 minutes of screentime, so it was no shock when she was able to bring home the Emmy for her performance as Annalise Keating in Shondaland classic How to Get Away with Murder in 2015 – the first Black actress ever to win in the category.
Uzo Aduba – 3 Total Emmy Wins
The recent newlywed took home trophies for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her turn as Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black in 2014 and 2015, and for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her appearance in Mrs. America in 2020.
Ava DuVernay – 2 Emmy Wins
Ava Duvernay has been nominated 6 times for her groundbreaking work, and took home both the Outstanding Made for Television Movie honor and the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special honor for her documentary drama 13th in 2017.
Ashley Nicole Black – Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special
A rising star in front of the lens, Ashley Nicole Black has been making waves in the writing room for years. Her work has garnered her 8 Emmy nominations over the years, but her work Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Presents Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner won her her first trophy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special in 2017.
Lena Waithe – Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Lena Waithe catapulted to stardom after her 2017 win for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her hilarious, relatable, yet poignant writing on Master of None.
Tiffany Haddish – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Tiffany Haddish took home the trophy for her hilarious turn hosting and starring in skits on Saturday Night Live in 2018.
Samira Wiley – Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Though she first found popularity starring alongside winner Uzo Aduba on OITNB, Samira Wiley garnered Emmy gold for her recurring role on The Handmaid’s Tale in 2018.
Thandiwe Newton – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
A staple of both US and UK television and film, Thandiwe Newton won the honor for her fan-beloved role as Maeve Millay in HBO sci-fi drama series Westworld in 2018.
Regina King – 4 Total Emmy Wins
It’s no secret that Regina King is a master of storytelling both in front of and behind the camera. Her superior skill has won her recognition by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on four occasions: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in both 2015 and 2016 for her roles in American Crime, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in 2018 for Seven Seconds and again in 2020 for Watchmen.
Maya Rudolph – 4 Total Emmy Wins
Maya Rudolph’s comedic genius has earned her 8 nominations and 4 wins: Two for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for appearances on Saturday Night Live in 2020 and 2021, and two for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance for her voice work in Big Mouth in 2020 and 2021.
Kerry Washington – Outstanding Variety Special (Live)
Despite multiple iconic roles on critically acclaimed TV series and miniseries and 8 nominations, Kerry Washington has only been granted one trophy: Outstanding Variety Special (Live) in 2020 for Live in Front of a Studio Audience: “All in the Family” and “Good Times”.
Jasmine Cephas Jones – Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
Jasmine Cephas Jones made history just last year, as the first-ever Black woman to win in the Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category for her role in #FreeRayshawn.
Zendaya – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Zendaya was only the second Black actress to win in this category for her role as Rue in Euphoria, in one of the most memorable moments from last year’s virtual Emmy ceremony.
Debbie Allen – 5 Total Emmy Wins
The most nominated Black woman (21 nominations total!) also holds the most wins for her brilliant choreography and production work over the years. She holds 3 trophies for Outstanding Choreography, having won two for Fame in 1982 and 1983 respectively, and one for Motown 30: What’s Goin’ On! in 1991. She also now holds two 2021 honors for her work on Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square; one for Outstanding Choreography For Scripted Programming and one for Outstanding Made for Television Movie.
Daysha Broadway & Stephanie Filo – Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming
Daysha Broadway and Stephanie Filo, alongside fellow woman of color, Jessica Hernandez, won for Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming for their work on A Black Lady Sketch Show just this year. They were the first Black women to be nominated, and the first all-women-of-color team to be nominated and the first to win in this category.
KeKe Palmer – Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
A fresh win, awarded just last week, Keke took home the 2021 trophy for her appearance in Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up with the Taylors.