An Intersectional Feminist Storm at the Snowflake Awards
Hollywood, a place that glorifies the glitz and glamour of fame and makes one’s wildest dreams come true. But who is actually included in this “one”- somebody who revels in the celebrity life? Does “one” include white heteronormative males as well as transgender women of color? Some might argue yes, that there is a broad span of social identities that are represented in the “one” and that anyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, etc, can see to having his or her name in lights. Yet, others, such as Viola Davis, counter this ‘perfect and equal’ ideology by attesting to the barriers of intersectionality in the Hollywood industry.
September 20, 2015 marked the 67th primetime Emmy Awards. I reluctantly tuned in hoping to be surprised by someone’s win but knowing that that possibility was unlikely. It was always the same ol’ thing year after year. When they finally announced the winner for the lead actress in a drama, I was completely taken aback when they read the name “Viola Davis”. A truly historical moment for television as Viola Davis became the first African American women to win an Emmy for that category. “Finally”, I thought to myself, “a woman of color is being recognized for her talents”. If you were to ask me who I thought would have won, I would have said the white actress from House of Cards, but I couldn’t have been more happy that I was wrong.
Her award was an accomplishment for the ages but her acceptance speech was an inspiring homage to women of color.
Davis began her acceptance speech by quoting Harriet Tubman, “In my mind, I see a line,” she said. “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.” She then said, “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity.You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there…Here is to all the writers, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhymes,” Davis went on, “people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to all the Taraji P. Hensons and Kerry Washingtons. . . to Gabrielle Union , thank you for taking us over that line.”
Her speech resonated with many, including me. As a Chicana women of color, I have grown to realize that Hollywood lacks diversity in its films and television. Why? Even if the director asks for someone to play the role of, for example, Marsha P. Johnson, an African American transwomen in the upcoming Stonewall movie, Hollywood will completely erase these key minorities from history and instead exercise a white/cis washed agenda. There are 7 billion people in this world which makes it incredibly difficult to believe that the directors could not find any African American transwomen to get the lead role. In my opinion, I do not think they were even looking for a minority actress. Hollywood simply invests their time into casting the right “white” actor/actress because they are the ones who embody mainstream beauty. What Viola Davis said is then true: “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there…”
Davis underscores an overlooked problem in Hollywood’s traditions called intersectionality. Intersectionality, as defined by Kimblere Crenshaw in her article “Mapping the Margins”, is the theory of how different kinds of discriminations interact. Such is the case with the intra-group “women of color” which accounts for race and gender, both categories of identity which have dealt with discrimination. It is one thing to suffer from the prejudice that society has towards women and it is another thing to be marginalized because of the color of your skin. Both of these discriminations intersect with one another and become a reality for women of color whom have to triumph through both. However, as Crenshaw mentions, the intermingling of these prejudices are not accounted for by either the femenist or antiracist movements: “ …when the practices [femenism and antiracism] expound identity as woman or person of color as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resist telling” (1242). As an example, gender discrimination has always been a developing issue in the workplace since it is known that women get paid less than men do. This is solely an issue of gender if said female and male are Caucasian. Now if race was instituted, the players would be a Caucasian male, a Caucasian female, and a Mexican female. Because the male is in fact a male, he will get paid more than both of the females. But, the Caucasian female will get paid more than the Mexican female because of her race. Women of color do not have the same opportunities as white women do and even less opportunities when compared to males.
Yes there has been improvements in the feminist movement and yes there has been progress made in the antiracist movements. Yet they both have maintained distinct political interests instead of forming a coalition, thus, leaving women of color to sit on the side.
Take for example the feminist movement. While white feminists believe that they are belittled by society, they actually hold the second most powerful demographic because, as Davis says, they are “the beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me [a woman of color], over that line”. It is undeniable that white women still are underrepresented in economic or power positions, but they have the privilege of being over that line since they are not burdened with the barrier of racism like many women of color experience on a daily basis. In this case, the white feminist movement only appeals to a particular type of women (white hetero) rather than being inclusive to the all of the social categories that women may possess.
As aforementioned, I find it incredibly hard to believe that there is not enough “ethnic talent” to play the written, people of color roles. In reality, there is an abundance of talent and passion, some of which include women of color, that want to unlock the Hollywood gates, but rarely is the opportunity given to them to get to the other side of the line. Those that hold the key to the gates are the writers and directors, so in order for Hollywood to change, we have to start with changing the people behind the camera. Thanks to Viola Davis, society recognizes the problem of inequality in Hollywood and has created a social movement to change it.
With Viola Davis’s win, she was able to cross the line set by white supremacy and patriarchy and cast a spotlight on the lack of diversity in the media.