Three days ago, Viola Davis won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. When her name was called, tears immediately sprang to her eyes. She threw her hands up in shock, stood up and hugged her plus ones. Several members of the audience stood to clap and congratulate her. On her way to the stage, Taraji P. Henson grabbed her and squeezed. Finally, she made her way up the stairs and took her award, stopping in front of the microphone. She sighed before beginning 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’s 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.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Viola Davis is the first woman of color to win the Outstanding Lead Actress award. Why? “You cannot win an Emmy for role that are simply not there.” What Davis is saying is the sad truth of diversity in television.
The majority of television series star a white man as the lead character. According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, 6.5% of the lead characters in television shows 2012-2013 were actors of color, even though minorities represent 37.4% of the US population. And women made up 48.6% of the lead roles in 2012-2013. And that’s just in front of the camera…
Women of color are missing from our TV channels. And the ones that are on the channels have to fight for their right to be there. Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project was rejected by NBC because the lead was a curvy brown woman.
Like Viola Davis, Mindy Kaling is breaking ground for actresses of color everywhere. Today, there are more shows than ever with lead women of color. Aside from How to Get Away with Murder and The Mindy Project, Scandal, Empire and Orange is the New Black are also a few of the popular series that feature fantastic leading women of color.
Now, they’re finally starting to be recognized for their #blackgirlexcellence. Viola was not the only black actress who was a nominee that night. Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Regina King, and Uzo Aduba were all recognized for their outstanding performances in their respective shows, and two of them left as winners.
Viola ended her speech like this: “And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Baharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union, thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you for the television academy.”
Like Viola said, the sight of more women of color in academy award shows is the first few bounds for diversifying television. Shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are some of the highest rated shows on television right now. Black women are finally being seen and appreciated for their tremendous talent.