On September 20, 2015, actress Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama. Davis began her speech with a Harriet Tubman quote: "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. I can't seem to get over that line." She used the bulk of her acceptance speech to call out the TV industry for its lack of diversity, stating, "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."
The only thing that stands between women of color and "anyone else" is not only opportunity, but that is its own conversation. However, Davis is exactly right when she calls out the under-representation of women of color on television. According to The Guardian, "There is a major discrepancy between the actual population within the US and the representation of that population on TV. Minorities account for more than 40 percent of the US population, and yet they are significantly under-represented in the television industries. According to the report, minorities remain under-represented nearly six to one in broadcast-scripted leads and nearly two to one among cable-scripted leads."
Although we have seen a rise in the presence of black actors and black directors in Hollywood, the films struggled to find financing from the big movie studios and rely instead on independent producers, black investors, and even crowdfunding to get made. Despite America’s changing demographics, Hollywood’s most powerful industry leaders have been slow to respond to a demand for movies that reflect cultural and racial shifts that have long been underway.
Hollywood's reluctance to fund films like "Selma," "Twelve Years A Slave," and "Lee Daniel's The Butler" demonstrates racism not only within the entertainment industry, but also within society. Because television and entertainment are so ingrained in our society, the implications of a lack of diversity within the entertainment industry are ever-present.
Thanks to women like Viola Davis, Hollywood is now being challenged for its lack of diversity. Important change is often radical, but it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. And thankfully, in order to satisfy both the storytelling process and audience demand, studio heads are finally waking up.