Her historic win illustrates the film industry’s enduring problem with racial equity.
Were your heart unmoved by Viola Davis’ moving Emmy acceptance speech last night, you might be compelled to check your vitals. The How to Get Away With Murder actress’s brief monologue, which borrows from Harriet Tubman and name-checks Davis’ black female colleagues, roused the audience into furious applause for its succinct criticism of the racial inequity that continues to divide Hollywood. That fact that Davis was the first black woman to win the award in this category (Outstanding Actress in a Drama) is clear evidence of this problem. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” said Davis, in one of the most quotable bits of the night.
In less than 200 words, Davis not only condemned Hollywood for its enduring race problem, but also celebrated her fellow black women colleagues, giving love to the Karry Washingtons, the Taraji P. Hensons, and the Halle Berrys of Hollywood, those who have had to shoulder the burden of representation in an industry that has not been particularly welcoming to them. Here is the full transcript of Davis’ 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. I can’t seem to get over that line." That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. 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. So, here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes. People who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons and Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goodes, to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you for the Television Academy. Thank you.”
In other news, a soap opera star was roundly “schooled” by Twitter users after dispatching a number of ill-advised tweets criticizing Davis’ speech.