The 2015 Emmy’s happened last night, which is probably why your timeline and newsfeed is filled with congratulations and various expressions of elation regarding Viola Davis’ very newsworthy and historic win.
Last night Davis became the first Black woman to win a Primetime Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category. Regina King and Uzoamaka Adoba took home trophies as well for their roles in American Crime and Orange is the New Black, respectively.
I have a confession: I think I’m the only Black woman in america not elated about (or satisfied with) the outcome of the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards. I’m absolutely thrilled Davis won — recognition of her outstanding work as an actor is long overdue. I haven’t seen American Crime, but I’ve seen King plenty and have no doubt her win was well-deserved. Adoba was hands down the best of seasons one and two on OITNB and although I certainly didn’t think they’d give her the award I’m more than happy she got what she deserved.
Still, as I reviewed the winners list from last night, I experienced what I can only call a lingering after taste, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. It’s 2015–why are we still having these kind of firsts for a group of people who, quite literally, built this country? Out of 26 categories Black actors took home trophies in only three. Out of 118 nominations for creatives (as opposed to programs), Blacks made up just 19 of those nominations with both Dee Rees and Key & Peele receiving two each (see full list below).
Is this supposed to excite me? I sat pensively most of the night and all morning wondering if I was just being cynical or if this terrible aftertaste is justified. No one wants to be the one to spoil the party with a “well, actually” while everyone else is celebrating and in this regard I’m not different. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out these facts, the potential pacification, and most importantly remind us that we have a long way to go and we can’t wait another five, 10, or 20 years to get there.
We haven’t even discussed the obvious, gaping void of other marginalized ethnicities and LGBTQ+ folks. Despite progress for those communities in other areas, last night’s show (along with almost every other award show) was overwhelmingly cis-gendered and…well…white.
I’m glad Transparent got their shout out. Words can’t express the joy I feel as a Black woman to see Davis, King, and Aduba take the stage to accept recognition for their work–I share the thrill Taraji P. Henson undeniably felt when each of their names was called. The “Yaaaassss” she let rip after presenting King her trophy was on behalf of every Black woman around the world and that includes me.
If anything, last night’s Emmy’s–the wins, the losses, the acceptance speeches, the Black natural hair, the all-night display unapologetic Blackness–should serve as motivation.
Viola Davis’ acceptance speech is perhaps the most important awards speech I’ve ever heard and maybe the most important thing said last night. It wasn’t the most moving or exciting speech and for plenty of folks it was uncomfortable, but it was important. It needed to be said and I adore Davis for having the courage and guts to stand up there–in all of her glory and Blackness and Womaness–and say it: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” You can bang the gavel and drop the mic.
Even if you were in the choir while Davis was in the pulpit, that was a word we all needed to hear. Because it is opportunities we need to keep demanding and creating for Black women and other women of color–and that includes trans* women!
P.S. Taraji P. Henson and all of her super excitement for every other Black woman at the Emmy’s is exactly who I want to be when I grow up and exactly the type of friends and sisters I want in my corner.
*Black Artists Nominated: Niecy Nash, Keegan-Michael Key, Andre Braugher, Tituss Burgess, Anthony Anderson, Don Cheadle, Dee Reesº, Regina King, Angela Bassett, Mo’Nique, Michael Kenneth Williams, Queen Latifah, David Oyelowo, Key & Peeleº, Uzo Aduba, Viola Davis, Tarji P. Henson
º – Received two nominations