Let’s set the stage. It’s a humid 99 degrees in Los Angeles, California. You’ve been sitting in the air-conditioned auditorium of the Microsoft Theater amongst writers, directors and actors tentatively awaiting their names to be called during the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. You are decked out in a custom made Carmen Marc Valvo gown, which is garnished with leaves cascading down the bodice and the cream colored fabric looks divine against your dark skin. Your face is posterized on the big screen as you and five other nominees await a name to be called for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award. Could it be you?
In the 63 years since the award was created, only seven black women have ever been nominated and now you've won. These women include fellow nominee Taraji P. Henson ("Empire"), Kerry Washington ("Scandal"), Cicely Tyson ("Sweet Justice"), Regina Taylor ("I'll Fly Away"), Alfre Woodard ("St. Elsewhere"), and Debbie Allen who was the first black woman to be nominated in 1981 for her role in "Fame". Allen would go on to be nominated four consecutive times without ever winning the award. So why is it that, although black people are often thought of as synonymous with talent and entertainment, it's taken so long for this drive, hard work and ambition to be recognized?
Although overwhelmed with emotion, you're still composed. Glancing out into the crowd there's Taraji P. Henson evoking every ounce of the proud mama “Cookie Lyon” would be and Kerry Washington who's consequently brought to tears. These aren't just fellow actresses or competitors who lost out on the award. They're your sisters and they're proud of you and of what you represent. You don’t forget this as you thank Henson, Washington, Shonda Rhimes, Halle Berry, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union and Nicole Beharie. You remind them that there aren’t any losers tonight. It's a true sign of camaraderie, grace, and the shared knowledge that this accomplishment is long overdue.
You state, "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity," after a thought provoking quote from Harriet Tubman in which it is made clear that women of color have never been able to cross the line that white women have been able to. What sounds ridiculous is actually true. How can one compete if the opportunity is never granted to them to grow and to be acknowledged? The talents of women of color are often overlooked for more stereotypical roles, laced in tropes that too often denies the complexity and humanity of people who are just like you; who laugh, cry, get angry, love and love hard. Furthermore, you insist that “you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there”. Although you are not trying to alienate anyone, history has made it clear that societal conversations and pushback in regards to sexism have often only benefited white women and overlooked the intersectionalities that shape the lives and opportunities afforded to women of color. But the tides are turning and the line's been crossed. Because you've won.
So here’s to redefining what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading women, to be black.
Congrats to the wonderful Viola Davis.