Last night Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama series. Wonderful, right? Well yes it is and it could not have happened to a better actress. She is talented, powerful, beautiful, formidable and well deserving. But….. in my joy in celebrating I feel torn, as most black women do when these events happen. For you see, being a black woman in America never results in a singular emotion as events occur. We always bring so much to the table when things unfold. I cannot just be happy without being angry that it took so long. And that in 2015 we are celebrating this! This should not be a first!
Most people will look at this and say, “Great! She is a good actress and it is well deserved.” But I see it and say it is about darn time. What about the others who have come before her and never were even considered? Those who were so talented but never got the roles?
I am angry because when we celebrate Viola, her looks, naturalness is always a part of the conversation. Why? Because Hollywood and Media has perpetrated a look of acceptance that has resulted in so many beautiful black actresses changing their looks to fit that standard of beauty. I love her for her beauty. She has allowed herself to show who she is in all her naturalness, and she glows with a gorgeous resonance that leaves me in awe. We know her beauty is not America’s standard, which has been shoved down our throats for way too long, Yet she stands tall and says “Here I am” and she looks absolutely stunning and amazing and unapologetic. For that I am angry, for it is a conversation, we should not have to have; a black woman presenting in her natural beauty.
I love Viola for many reasons; her acting just being a small part of it. I love her for her strength. She presents as such a confident, fierce determined woman who knows her roots and brings the history with her. And notice, I did not say her history, for it is everyone’s history. You have but to listen to any of her speeches to understand she knows who she is. She recognizes the struggle that it took to get here. Every role she has, she brings it. She shows strength in her roles that pulls you in and reminds you of what a powerful actress she is. She is a force to be reckoned with.
I love her for the beauty and depth of her speeches and interviews. She always, and I mean always, brings the history of the struggle by acknowledging the past; the strength of the ancestors. Life has not been easy for Viola. She acknowledges the struggle it has taken to get to this point. She embraces the history of those who have forged the path to allow her opportunities. She has been on this road of acting for 27 years and it is about time she has been “recognized”. I will not say “validated”, for those of us who love her, that happened a long time ago.
I love her quote, “The only thing that separate women of color from anyone else is opportunity”. How sad that opportunity is taking so long. And how sad that there are thousands more Viola Davis’ out there who have not had the roles written or the roles offered by Hollywood because of America’s one dimensional standard of beauty and refusal to embrace diversity on the screen. There should not be a role for a black character in today’s Hollywood. It is seldom said, I am sure, “this role is for a white character”, when casting.
So in summary, I guess you can say in celebrating Viola’s win, the duplicity I feel is, while I am joyful and happy, I am also getting so very weary of the “firsts” that are still happening for people of color in 2015. When in the world will it no longer be a celebration of firsts, but rather a norm?