Last night, a lot happened at the Emmys: Andy Samberg was very, very funny (yay!). Terrence Howard was creepy beyond all reason. And every time Transparent won anything I wept like a small child because goddamn it, that show is beautiful.
But most importantly, Viola Davis made history as the first woman of colour to ever win Outstanding Actress in a drama series for How To Get Away With Murder. And holy shit, you guys, her speech.
“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,” she began. “That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. Let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
“So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shondra Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black,” Davis continued. “And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nichole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”
I mean, I hope I don’t need to explicitly state why this speech was important and necessary. (But I will.) The fact that the 50-year-old actor is the first woman of colour to ever win an Outstanding Actress in a drama series Emmy award should be enough to jar writers and producers and directors and media consumers into realizing the line Tubman and Davis referenced is very real, and incredibly upsetting. Yes, finally, there are more women of colour on television doing amazing work in amazing shows, but we shouldn’t be able to count all those shows and all those roles between two hands. Not when television is changing so rapidly and expanding to online channels like Hulu and Amazon. That should mean more opportunities, more characters, and more writers, and make that line easier to erase because it shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Here’s hoping all TV (and movie) writers, directors, and producers print out Viola Davis’ speech and put it on their desks or office walls and look at it whenever they’re stuck on what to do next. Because it’s very easy to become complacent and a creature of habit or to use the past as a crutch. But it’s even easier to use common sense and choose to get with the program because there’s no excuse not to and why wouldn’t you want to open your eyes and evolve?
Viola Davis forever, you guys.