Monday September 21, 2015
- "The only thing that separates women of colour from
anyone else is opportunity" The words of Emmy Awards
winner Viola Davis as for the first time a black actress
wins the coveted Outstanding Actress in a Drama award.
And there's a message in her brief but poignant
Sunday night 20th September was the night
many a TV drama watcher must have made a date with for
last night the 67th Emmy Awards were held and according
"The Television Academy tonight
awarded the 67th Emmy® Awards, recognizing excellence in
primetime programming and individual achievement for the
2014-2015 television season.
The 67th Emmy Awards telecast took
place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles."
Now you have it.
So this was the 67th and many would
have been held before now but what was a historic moment
was when for the first time a black woman won the
Outstanding Lead Actress in A Drama Series.
Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in
"How To Get Away With Murder" was thrilled at winning
the coveted award and this is what she is reported to
have said as found on the
BBC website -
Actress Viola Davis received a
standing ovation for her acceptance speech at the Emmy
Awards, where she became the first black woman to win
outstanding actress in a drama. The actress plays
Annalise Keating - a brilliant but conflicted criminal
defence professor who, with five of her students,
becomes entwined in a murder plot - in How to Get Away
Her win came after two other black
women took home Emmy awards - Regina King for American
Uzo Aduba for
Orange Is the New Black. Here is a transcript of her
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 colour 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."
It has been a long, hard road for
Viola. One report says "After accepting her Emmy, Davis
told reporters backstage she was feeling "really good.
And if you knew me, you'd know how rare that was." The
actress went on: "I've been in this business 25 years.
I've been eking out a living doing Broadway,
off-Broadway... I'm just excited to be a part of the
conversation. I've seen the unemployment line a lot,
man." Now you know.
Now the question is - why would it
take such a long time for a black actress to win such an
award? As she hinted, there are many considerations and
chief among them is to be given the opportunity - and
for this the story line, scripting and all the mishmash
that makes for good television drama must be there to
give the black actress the opportunity. Failing this,
the award would invariably fall right into the laps of
Daily Mail reports
- "In one of the most emotional moments from this year's
Emmy Awards, Viola Davis gave an outstanding speech
after becoming the first African-American woman to win
the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama. She
was also previously nominated for a Golden Globe for the
role in the Shonda Rhimes' executive produced series
created by Peter Nowalk. While accepting the prestigious
award, Davis' powerful speech moved audience members,
including actress Kerry Washington, to tears.
Surprised that it took all that long?
Well don't be - for the world of recognition in such
matters are often littered with all ugly things that get
well covered up by the lights and glamour of such
Take your mind back, if you will - to
the days of black and white films and then the arrival
of colour on cinema and television screens and you will
no doubt have noticed the stereotyping that is a feature
of such films. Black actors often are portrayed as lowly
servants, porters, maids or the traditional big-bosomed
and ample-fleshed Mammy.
We found this in one online essay - "Reviewing
The Stereotyped African American Actors Film Studies
Essay" - The black American actors have
come along away within the movie industry in a myriad of
perspectives. This is exemplified by the present huge
number of black actors in Hollywood, the contemporary
influential roles they play and even more essential; the
modern view they present in relation to the
stereotypical roles of the past century.
A far cry from what it used to be in
the early and mid 20th century with all film roles
assigned to this group having attached racial prejudice.
During the periods between the 1900 and 1970, many
blacks were given subordinate and subservient roles.
The theatrical image, "Black face"
continued to be the conventional depiction of black
actors within the film industry, with many of them such
as Dewey Markham - adopting the image as integral to
their act (Padgett, 2011). Actors of this era were given
roles of servants, often of the lowest levels, such as
janitors, house helps, porters, cooks, gardeners and
cleaners among others.
The first black woman to win an Oscar
was Actress and radio performer
Hattie McDaniel in
1940 for her supporting role as Mammy in 'Gone With the
Wind.' When she was criticised for playing the role of a
maid in some movies she is reported to have retorted -
"I'd rather play a maid than be one. Why should I
complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I
didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one." And a seven
hundred dollars weekly pay those days was quite
The portrayal of the black actor or
indeed the non-white in Hollywood films is well
documented and even though many attempts are now been
made to address the racist tendencies and outright
denigration of the non-white in films, there's a feeling
that deep down Hollywood could still be grappling with
its past. We saw this in one account of just how racism
pervades the industry. This is to be found in -
of Black People in Film" and begins with
this story -
"One day in 1967, Audre Lorde, a Black
woman who was a noted poet, writer and activist, was out
shopping at the supermarket. Her two-year old daughter
was along for the ride in the shopping cart, like many
other children with their parents.
A young White girl in her mother’s
shopping cart passed Lorde and her daughter and when she
saw Lorde’s daughter, she called out, “Oh look, Mommy, a
The idea that Black women are maids
was so strong that even for this very young child, that
is the first thought she has about a Black girl. Because
this incident took place in 1967, it is easy to think
that those kinds of ideas were common then, but wouldn’t
be heard today. In fact, portrayals of Black women as
servants and maids continue to be widespread,
particularly in film and television.
something that is
bound to get you thinking afresh. "When Octavia Spencer
won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting
Role in 2011 for her portrayal of Minny Jackson in The
Help, she became the sixth African-American woman to win
While Spencer’s acting may have been
excellent, the troubling fact remains that of all the
roles Black women have played, in many movies, for many
decades, this is the role that the Academy Award decided
to reward with an Oscar.
A role where Spencer plays a maid. The
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is
responsible for deciding who will win the awards, is
mostly men, and 90% White. Patricia Hill Collins argues
that “because the authority to define societal values is
a major instrument of power, elite groups, in exercising
power, manipulate ideas about Black womanhood. They do
so by exploiting already existing symbols, or creating
new ones.“ The idea about Black womanhood that is
exploited here is the notion of Black women being
servants or mammies.