Viola Davis, who plays morally ambiguous attorney Annalise Keating on the hit TV show How To Get Away With Murder, is not just a phenomenal actress. Now, she is also a part of history as the first black woman in history to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Viola, along with Empire’s Taraji P. Henson, also made history when they were both nominated for the award earlier this year, making it the first time two women of colour were nominated in the category.
But why is this important, you ask? Well, the simple answer is because she’s black.
People of colour, but especially women of colour, have been discriminated against and marginalised for centuries. We have been told that we are not good enough to be in top positions, or have fair representation in everything from movies to government. We have been stereotyped, made fun of, exotified, exploited, and made to feel simply unworthy of the same treatment as our white counterparts.
Viola highlighted this in her speech when she quoted slavery abolitionist 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.”
There has always been this invisible line between white women and women of colour in everything we do. It is the line of oppression and discrimination. But women like Viola have seen that line and have begun to fight back against it. Right now, our toes may only just be going over that line, but it is progress. When women like Viola, Taraji, Kerry Washington, Gina Rodriguez, and Mindy Kaling are not only given leading roles in prime TV spots, but also being praised for it, that is progress.
But the fight is far from over. Yes, people of colour are receiving more recognition, but that recognition is not equal or fair. Idris Elba is told he could never be James Bond because he’s “too street”, most representations of black women in the media are The Angry Black Woman or The Sassy Black Friend, and people like this actress thinks it’s okay to try and steam-roller a black woman’s success because they don’t feel said black woman has ever been discriminated against.
So while there is still a long way to go before all races will truly be equal, perhaps this is a tipping point. Perhaps now, in the age of social awareness through avenues like social media, where anyone can make their voice heard, is the time for true change. Perhaps actresses of colour winning prestigious awards for their great acting will show the world that power, beauty, talent and skill is more than just white. We are not better or worse than our white counterparts, because, as Viola also said: “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.”
Watch Viola’s full speech below: