Viola Davis recently became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Professor Keating on the hit series How to Get Away with Murder. Davis gave a noteworthy acceptance speech saying, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Do you believe that Hollywood has begun to offer more professional opportunities and representation for people of color?
This is a tricky question. I think that popular culture would like to assume that equal opportunity among people of all background exists, especially when prominent women of color like Viola Davis gain so much media attention for winning an Emmy. However, I think it would be ignorant to say that equal opportunity automatically exists in Hollywood just based what happened with one specific actress. Generally the TV shows and movies that I encounter have mostly white casts. I find that when people of color are in the media they are usually representing an archetypal image of their race. We, as a culture need to deconstruct this idea of white being “normal” and start accepting non-white people to play more dynamic characters. In recent years we’ve made a lot of progress. But we still have a long way to go.
I can’t say concretely whether or not the industry will offer more opportunities after Davis’ win and brilliant speech. While her speech calls out the industry on its lack of opportunity for women of color, any subsequent influxes of roles for these groups only leaves me feeling skeptical. Hollywood has seen an increase lately with non-white oriented shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Blackish, but a speech from Jeff Chang I’ve heard recently makes me question if diversity has become commodified. I’m 100% for more diversity in media, however I can’t help but question if diversity is being exploited as a trend or marketing tool instead of representation. For instance, many universities will include more students of color in their pamphlets than their population actually has in order to promote “diversity.” Ultimately, any opportunity that shows up in Hollywood after Davis’s speech is a double-edged sword. More roles may appear, but who knows if it’s just exploitative in nature?
I think Viola Davis is right, when she pointed out in her speech that people of color don’t get as many opportunities. Especially since there have been many recent events that make it clear that racism is still a very large problem in America, Hollywood should make a better effort to allow people of color to succeed in the industry as well. I am not sure how the industry can make the effort to be more inclusive and representative of people of color but it is definitely something that needs to be worked on.