Viola Davis, Shut Up Already
I’m sure that is what many people thought (or even said) when Viola Davis made her acceptance speech at the 67th Prime-time Emmy Awards this past Sunday night as she walked away as the first African-American woman to win the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
What started all of this?
Was it Halle Berry in 2002, who is still the only black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, who mentioned “…every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance tonight because this door has been opened” during her acceptance speech?
Or was it Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech earlier this year that demanded “wage equality once and for all” and now Voila Davis’ proclamation that “[t]he only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Or is it simply the other countless speeches, articles and studies written each and every year about the lack of roles and opportunities for women in Hollywood.
But to Halle, Patricia and Viola, you won? Isn’t that enough? When you stand to accept an award, must every woman make some political statement about the plight of Hollywood and opportunities for women in this country?
The orchestra conductor need not worry about the length of this answer because it is short and sweet – yes.
The question is not “how dare she make these types of statements at such prestigious occasions?” The real question is “how can she not?”
How can she not when only 31% of speaking roles in films are given to women and only 23% of protagonists in film are women. And behind the camera on the tip top floors of the high rise buildings in the C-suites, film studio heads are 94% white and 100% percent male while television network and studio heads are 96% white and 71% male, as reported by the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.
I’m sure Viola Davis would have preferred to stand in front of the Emmy audience and simply thank her family and friends for all of their support. I can only imagine how Patricia Arquette’s mind must have been racing as she walked up the stairs to accept her Academy Award asking herself over and over again if she would truly speak the words written on the note in her hand. But they did and they spoke for all of us, not Black women or Hispanic women or Asian women – women period. That is no small feat.
It is a complicated issue for which right now we are only armed with a simple solution: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and we won’t stop, we can’t stop until the playing field is leveled.
As happy as I am for Viola Davis’ award at the Emmys (and I am ecstatic), I am equally disturbed that in 2015 we are still experiencing these types of “firsts”. And for the millions of dollars we hear that actors are receiving everyday for numerous roles to know that the woman who is possibly standing right next to them in the movie/television promotion poster doesn’t make the same wage is mind-blowing.
So thank you Halle Berry, Viola Davis, Regina King, Patricia Arquette, Meryl Streep, Dame Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Kerry Washington, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Mindy Kaling, Geena Davis and many many others for having the courage to use “your time to shine” for us. Ladies, continue to squeak that wheel until, as Harriet Tubman stated, “we all can cross that ‘line’”.