Harriet Tubman, By Way Of Viola Davis
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Harriet Tubman
This was the first time I’d heard this quote. It couldn’t have come from a better source–the beautiful lips of Black actress, Viola Davis, who deservedly won the Emmy for the best actress in a drama.
When brilliance is in the room, it can be felt. The churn of your stomach is almost unbearable–it’s like that split second before you plunge down the first drop of the tallest roller coaster in the amusement park. It stirs you in your seat, but it’s thrilling. Viola Davis winning best actress in a drama is history making. It’s 2015 and this is the first time a Black woman has won this award, because–as Viola said, “You cannot win an award for roles that simply are not there.”
NPR’s Eric Deggans wrote prior to the Emmy’s, that a win by either Davis or Henson would be a first “basically because black women haven’t had many starring roles in TV dramas until recently.”
Of course with that type of statement comes the haters (there’s no other name for people who spew such hateful dialogue) who seem to think that because we have Kerry Washington leading the cast of “Scandal,” Gabrielle Union leading the cast of “Being Mary Jane,” Regina King killing the game in “American Crime” and Taraji P. Henson becoming a sensation for the instant classic, “Empire,” that it’s enough to keep us happy (read: quiet). But these are only a handful of Black actresses who have jobs that extend beyond the chitlin circuit we’re used to.
As Viola so eloquently explained, “You cannot win an award for roles that simply are not there.”
It was only six months ago when Deadline released a disgusting article that whined more than it argued about the amount of good roles that Black people were “stealing.” The writer of said article (who doesn’t deserve to be named) said, “A lot of what is happening right now is long overdue. The TV and film superhero ranks have been overly White for too long, workplace shows should be diverse to reflect workplace in real America, and ethnic actors should get a chance to play more than the proverbial best friend or boss,” which happened to be the only truth of the article.
Far too long, Black actors have had to play the sidekicks (if they could even get their foot in the door), maids and mammies, something drug-related, good for nothing or just plain ghetto roles. Black actors started making waves on the small screen and it bothered way too many people. According to Deadline, “The pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal.”
The Deadline writer called it “ethnic casting.” Ethnic casting? Try ethnic struggle–which is the reality many actors of color have had to face when they couldn’t even get their foot in the door to be considered for a role.
“Empire’s” incredible viewership has forced Hollywood to think about who is qualified rather than who looks charming and digestible (read: White) enough for the role. There is plenty of mediocre talent who have gotten all the roles and now they have been challenged by actors of color who are fully talented and they don’t know how to handle not being first up for roles. It’s hilarious actually. This is what disenfranchisement feels like, White people!
Viola Davis, Uzo Aduba and Regina King’s wins were all epic at the 2015 Emmys because for so long, we were unable to even receive or even audition for the coveted roles they’re in now. Fellow actress, Nancy Lee Grahn (who should have just congratulated Viola and moved on), faced the wrath of Black Twitter after she took to social media to say she wished Viola let Shonda Rhimes write her speech. Are you kidding me?
Viola’s speech was single-handedly the expression of all Black actors who just can’t seem to reach “that line.” It was historical, inspirational and telling of the struggles Black people face, not only in acting, but in life.Grahn continued to tweet her disdain and even asserted that Viola is the creme of the crop, thus, she hasn’t been discriminated against. “Try being any woman in TV. Wish she’d brought every woman in the picture. I wish I’d opportunity to play roles she gets.”
You have gotten all of those opportunities and more. I can’t speak on Grahn’s acting skills, but chances are, they just weren’t good enough to play an endearing, but touch love-giving law professor. Grahn’s public Twitter apology was exactly what I expected–she didn’t want Viola to make her award a race issue, instead a women actor issue. Ok Taylor Swift.Viola winning IS a racial issue. Before Kerry Washington became Olivia Pope, the last Black woman to lead a cast was in 1974 when Tessa Graves starred as a policewoman in the blaxploitation show Get Christie Love!
Somehow Grahn and the rest of the world who always want to chant “All Lives Matter” when Black lives are defending ourselves or just trying to show that we deserve a place in this world, feel as though they’re the ones being discriminated against. Isn’t that interesting?
Viola Davis needed to give that speech after being the FIRST BLACK WOMAN to win such an award. History needed to be felt. And history certainly deserved to be made.