Emmy Awards Winners Make History

Contributors: Alison Main and Aziza Kasumov

At last night’s 67th annual Emmy Awards Viola Davis won the award for best lead actress in a drama, marking the first time a black woman has ever won the prize. She didn’t simply make the news, she made history. What does that say about the film industry?

With the entertainment industry exploring new platforms and widening its range of opportunity for actors, we’re starting to see a transformation towards racial diversity in movies, television, and streaming series. Black actors are given more and more roles that actors of any race could have portrayed, such as businessmen or law professors, much like Annalise Keating, Viola Davis’ charater in the ABC hit series “How to Get Away with Murder.”

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said in her Emmy acceptance speech, “you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Recently, television shows have portrayed a more realistic picture of society to audiences. But the fact that people are celebrating Davis as the first black woman to win best leading actress in drama instead of simply praising her for her outstanding acting skills indicates that there is still a long way to go.

Besides Davis, Uzo Aduba won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a drama series her role in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” and Regina King won an Emmy for her supporting role in “American Crime.” Twitter buzzed with support for these women and their achievements.

The last time that three women of color won Emmy awards in the same night was in 1991, when Lynn Whitfield, Madge Sinclair and Ruby Dee took home awards. Since then 14 years have passed, which suggests that opportunities for minorities in the media are exceptional occurrences rather than trends.

For now, we’re celebrating a historical win that strives to be less of a breakthrough and more of a beginning. The trend towards more accurate opportunities for minority in the film industry could start here, but there is still progress to be made before diversity in television becomes the norm rather than something to celebrate.