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Is there room for only one celebrated black TV actress in awards season?

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 3:47 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Viola Davis was nominated for awards this season, but Kerry Washington was not
  • Both star in TV shows tied to producer Shonda Rhimes
  • Maybe Hollywood isn't as progressive as it thinks, one writer says

(CNN) -- Might there be a Tyra Banks/Naomi Campbell situation this awards season?

With the announcement of nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes, Viola Davis' fans had plenty to cheer about. She received nods for her performance in the new ABC drama "How to Get Away With Murder." But "Scandal" actress Kerry Washington, one of the darlings of awards seasons past, was nowhere to be found.

Kerry Washington and Viola Davis arrive at an event in West Hollywood in September.
Kerry Washington and Viola Davis arrive at an event in West Hollywood in September.

Is it a case of there being room for only one African-American woman to be celebrated?

It's not a new concept. In 2005, Banks invited fellow supermodel Campbell onto her talk show for a conversation about the tension between them.

The nominees for the 72nd Golden Globe Awards were announced on December 11, and Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King biopic "Selma" (pictured) is up for best dramatic motion picture. It's competing against "Boyhood," "Foxcatcher," "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything." The nominees for the 72nd Golden Globe Awards were announced on December 11, and Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King biopic "Selma" (pictured) is up for best dramatic motion picture. It's competing against "Boyhood," "Foxcatcher," "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything."
2015 Golden Globes nominations
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Photos: 2015 Golden Globes nominations Photos: 2015 Golden Globes nominations

The fashion industry was partially to blame, Banks said.

"Back then, there were 10 top models ... but there was an unwritten rule that only one of them could be black," Banks said. "And Naomi was that one black girl."

Campbell added in 2013, "It does irk me that two women of color have to be pitted against each other. ... I'm very proud of Tyra and what she's done with 'America's Next Top Model.' I'm proud of her; I'm proud to know her."

Likewise, model Iman told Time in 2003 that when she arrived in New York in 1975 to model, she "learned that magazines would only use one black girl at a time, and they were trying to create a competition between us."

Davis has received plenty of acclaim for her work in films and began drawing even more awards buzz from almost the moment she debuted as tough-as-nails law professor Annalise Keating on "How to Get Away With Murder."

Washington, meanwhile, has reigned as a fan favorite during the four seasons of her hit show "Scandal." In 2013, she was saluted for being the first black woman to lead a weekly TV series since Diahann Carroll starred in "Julia," which premiered in 1968.

Washington's absence from this year's nominations was very quickly noted.

Debra Birnbaum, executive editor for TV for Variety, tweeted, "Another early morning, another awards snub for @kerrywashington. I'm getting tired of complaining about it. #scandal."

Another fan tweeted, "And again how is @kerrywashington not nominated for @ScandalABC?! It's baffling to me. Congrats on the nom Viola Davis. #GlodenGlobes."

Writing for The Wrap, Jethro Nededog noted Wednesday that the SAG nomination for Davis but not Washington may have illuminated the lingering diversity problem in Hollywood.

He said it was not that Washington wasn't deserving this time around, because "At the top of the game for TV's dramatic actresses, she should have been a shoo-in for a SAG nomination again this year."

"Of course, Washington's nomination history for a SAG award isn't as deep as the one she has for the Emmys, which she received nominations for in 2013 and 2014. And the Golden Globes also saw fit to nominate her only once before, in 2014, just like the SAGs," Nededog wrote. "But if it's true that there's only room for one black leading actress in the run for awards, then Hollywood isn't as progressive-minded as we believe ourselves to be."

Both shows are tied to Shonda Rhimes, who holds the distinction of being the most powerful woman of color in Hollywood. Rhimes rules Thursday nights on ABC, with "Scandal" (which she created) and "How to Get Away With Murder" (which she executive produced) airing back to back.

Known for building in diversity, both of color and of sexuality, into her projects, Rhimes told the New York Times in September that she saw nothing unique in the lineup.

"I'm not sitting around going, 'Wow, it's historic to have two black women on television,' " Rhimes said. "I don't think it's odd to see two black women standing in the same place because, well, that's my house. Like, it's not a thing. To me, it just feels like Tuesday."

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