Viola Davis recently made history at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy’s as the first African American woman to win an award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in “How to Get Away with Murder.”
During her acceptance speech, Davis used her time on stage to raise awareness on how underrepresented African American are in Hollywood.
During Davis’ speech, she said a few things that stuck out to me that should not only inspire African American women, but women of all race and ethnicities. During her speech, Davis said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Davis also said, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
These two lines stuck out to me because when “Scandal” first premiered in 2012, people were shocked to see an African American woman as a leading role on a television show. Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope, became the first African American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years. Since then, Washington has been nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 2013 and 2014, but lost.
According to eonline.com, during “Scandal’s” 2015 PaleyFest Panel, Washington wanted to reassure the audience that “Scandal” is a show about a woman who is not only black but also a lot of other things.”
In my opinion, I am personally proud of Davis and all that she has accomplished to get to this point. I remember back in 2012 during a Newsweek Oscar Roundtable, Charlize Theron, most known for her roles in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” interrupted Davis while she was speaking on what it feels like to be unnoticed in Hollywood. Also, in 2014, The New York Times wrote an article about Shonda Rhimes, creator of hit television shows, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How To Get Away with Murder.” In the article, written by Alessandra Stanley, it addressed Davis’ character, Annalise, as “sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way,” on “How to Get Away with Murder”, but said the actress, Davis, “doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama.” The article went on to describe Davis as “older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful.”
Still today, African American actresses are underrepresented in Hollywood. For example, Taraji P. Henson who now plays Cookie Lyon on “Empire,” has played wonderful roles in movies such as “Baby Boy” and “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” but just recently was “discovered” as Cookie. We have been seeing some strides recently, though. According to a 2013 Nielsen report, African Americans watch 37 percent more television than any other race. Because of this, major networks have responded by renewing seasons of television shows with African American women as lead roles. For example, the season one finale of “Empire,” featuring Taraji P. Henson as Cookie, had the highest first season ratings than any new series on a broadcast network since Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy.” In the future, I would love to see African American women cast in more movies and television shows other than those directed by Tyler Perry, Shonda Rhimes and Oprah Winfrey.
Because of Davis’ speech, I believe the world will start to recognize that African American woman are finally making strides in becoming more prominent on television.
Excellent article; well researched and written!