“The only thing that separates women of color from anything else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” said Viola Davis in her Emmy acceptance speech.
Does the lack of acting roles in Hollywood that portray African-American women as desirable, educated, happy and successful play a factor in the way we view Black women today? It could be! For many years, the film industry’s negative depiction of Black women on the big-screen has shaped the mainstream’s reality of who black women really are. Many actresses are beginning to speak out about the inequality in Hollywood.
Two-time Tony Award winner, Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winning Viola Davis is one of them. She admits to still feeling that she is underused in television even as the first black actress to accept an Emmy Award. She won best actress in a drama as Annalise Keating, the tough-talking criminal law professor and protagonist of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”
But in her acceptance speech, Ms. Davis quoted Harriet Tubman:
“‘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.’
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,” she said addressing the television industry’s lack of opportunities for black women.
For this reason, Scandal’s Kerry Washington and Davis’s recently inked deal with ABC Studios and ABC Signature Studios is a great opportunity to create more diverse roles for the next generation of African American actresses.
Two of the biggest stars, Davis and Washington plan to broadcast, cable and digital projects exclusively for the network by way of their independent production companies. Davis signed her company JuVee Productions, founded with husband Julius Tennona, and Washington signed her recently launched production company, Simpson Street.
“We started JuVee because we wanted to see narratives that reflected our multi-ethnic and multifaceted culture,” Davis commented to a source. “We wanted to be a part of classic storytelling, and we didn’t want to wait.”
So what does this mean for African American women? Throughout the history of television, the only roles available for Black actresses depicted them in an undesirable manner i.e. maids, mammies, jezebels, negro, thugs, promiscuous, weak and more.
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