Emmys 2015: 5 groundbreaking wins at TV's top awards

The Emmys made history Sunday evening, with groundbreaking, high-profile wins that recognized diverse performances and shows, from How to Get Away with Murder's Viola Davis to epic fantasy Game of Thrones.

Diversity an undercurrent of Sunday's gala

It was a historic night at the Emmys Sunday evening, with major breakthroughs and groundbreaking wins on different fronts as the annual celebration of television moved towards greater recognition of diverse performances and shows.

1. Black actresses triumph

A few years after Viola Davis turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in The Help, she has become the first non-Caucasian woman to win a best dramatic actress Emmy for her starring role in as a law professor in ABC's drama How to Get Away with Murder.

The significance of the moment wasn't lost on the esteemed, veteran actress and Tony-winner, who kicked off her acceptance speech by quoting 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can't seem to get there no how. I can't seem to get over that line," Davis quoted.

Viola Davis' historic Emmy win

7 years ago
Duration 5:08
TV awards takes steps towards honouring diverse performers, roles, shows

In addition to thanking series creator Peter Nowalk and executive producer Shonda Rhimes for having "redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black," she also gave a shout out to some of her African-American peers currently working in Hollywood – from fellow Emmy contender Taraji P. Henson (Empire) to Scandal's Kerry Washington to Oscar-winner Halle Berry (Extant).

Davis' win underlined a triumphant night for black actresses, with Uzo Aduba tearfully accepting her second consecutive supporting actress Emmy for Orange is The New Black and a shocked Regina King earning the outstanding supporting actress in a limited series/movie for American Crime.

2. Transparent focuses on transgender issues

Comedy veteran Jeffrey Tambor scored Emmy gold, winning lead actor in a comedy for playing transgender woman Maura Pfefferman in the landmark Amazon series.

"Thank you for your patience, thank you for your courage, thank you for your stories, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for letting us be part of the change," he said in his acceptance speech, as he dedicated his performance and win to the transgender community. 

Series creator Jill Soloway, who based the show on her father's transition, also took home an Emmy for her directing.

In her speech, she urged the audience to support equal rights for trans people, explaining for instance, that if her trans parent (whom she calls "Moppa") wanted to rent an apartment, it is still legal for people to discriminate against her in 32 states.

"We don't have a trans tipping point yet, we have a trans civil rights problem," Soloway said.

3. Game of Thrones onslaught

Emmy voters typically eschew genre fare in its main categories (aside from the longrunning series Lost ), but the influence and appeal of HBO's sprawling fantasy epic Game of Thrones cannot be denied. 

Heading into its sixth season and garnering ever-increasing attention and acclaim, the show was crowned with 12 wins – setting a new record for most Emmys won in a single year by knocking out previous record-holder The West Wing (which picked up nine in 2000).

"Thanks again, HBO, for believing in dragons," producer David Benioff said.

4. A Mad Men finale for Hamm

​Though Mad Men has, in the past, received Emmy recognition (including four consecutive best drama series wins starting in 2008), Jon Hamm has always missed out in the best dramatic actor category for his memorable role as the show's central figure: the conflicted and complicated ad man Don Draper.

That's until last night, when Hamm memorably bypassed the stairs to clamber onto the stage and accept his trophy and was visibly taken back at the audience's applause.

"I turned around and realized that people were clapping for me," he told reporters later, backstage. 

"I was mortified. It's been so nice, all of it. This is sort of the culmination of that wonderful feeling."

Tracy Morgan was warmly welcomed back to the stage at the Emmys, after having suffered a horrific car accident in June 2014. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

5. Tracy Morgan returns

The television community celebrated a different sort of win with the surprise appearance of former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan, who turned up onstage at the end of the night to present the Emmy for best dramatic series.

"It's been a long road back," said Morgan, who suffered major injuries in a horrific car accident in June 2014.

"I suffered a traumatic brain injury that put me in a coma for eight days. When I finally regained consciousness, I was just ecstatic to learn that I wasn't the one who messed up," he quipped.

These wins struck a chord for different communities, but a breezy comment from Emmy host Andy Samberg early on suggested Hollywood still has a way to go.

"The big story this year, of course, is diversity. This is the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history," he noted at the start of the show.

"So congratulations, Hollywood, you did it. Yeah. Racism is over – don't fact-check that."


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