The 67th Primetime Emmy Awards were, at least in comparison to recent ceremonies, surprisingly good! There were funny jokes that landed, well-deserved wins, and a couple of water-cooler moments. But the one moment that everyone is — or at least should be— talking about is Viola Davis’ wonderful, heartfelt, and strong as hell acceptance speech.
Davis won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Drama for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, a fun, soapy drama from Shonda Rhimes and Peter Nowalk in which Davis’ performance has consistently been the obvious highlight. In her emotional acceptance speech, Davis was the epitome of beautiful blackness, right down to rocking her natural hair and an opening quote from Harriet Tubman. It was a speech of celebration, yes, but it was also a speech that delivered a necessary dose of realness: Davis made salient points about diversity in Hollywood — “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” — that also served to show how far Hollywood still has to go in terms of racial diversity.
While television has been actively working to include more diverse casts and crews, and to celebrate more diverse performers, the undeniable fact remains that Hollywood is still a place where white (and male) is the default setting. There are not enough roles for people of color, and especially not enough well-developed roles of nuance, and an Emmy doesn’t exactly ward off racism. And, well, not to downplay the rightfully celebratory mood of last night’s POC wins, but: it is depressing that it took until 2015 for a black woman to win this award; it is depressing that it’s 2015 and we’re still prefacing current achievements with “The first African American to _______.”