Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Viola Davis’ “Historic” Emmy Win


Now please hear me out. I love Viola Davis’ acting. She kills it as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder. So yes, we should celebrate her. And yes, we should celebrate the fact that she won the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.

What we should not celebrate is the fact that she is the first African American woman to receive the honor. We should not celebrate the fact that it has taken the Emmys sixty-seven years to do this. 

I refuse to celebrate the fact that TV and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences are finally beginning to treat women of color actors with more equity. So just like women shouldn’t get giddy when their husbands change a diaper or burp their babies, I too will not get excited about Hollywood allowing a black woman to be a human on screen and awarding her for her undeniably amazing talent. I won’t celebrate that; neither should you. And we shouldn’t be asked to.

To combine Davis’ win with so much discussion about the “historicalness” of the win dilutes the significance of her personal accomplishment. She would have won that Emmy even if she wasn’t black. But she probably would’ve won it sooner, and she’d probably have multiple statues by now.

Additionally, to comment on the significance of the win is to unnecessarily applaud Hollywood for its “progress,” without understanding that today’s celebration may quickly give way to next month’s protest. Remember the Oscars. 

Remember that time when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won Oscars for best actress and best actor in a leading role, and everyone raved at how Hollywood was opening up to actors of color? And remember when thirteen years later the #OscarsSoWhite protest blazed through the media because not one person of color was nominated for an acting award? Well, in Hollywood, “progress” seems to vary from decade to decade and season to season.

So, instead of celebrating when Hollywood does finally get it right, here’s what we should be doing instead:

  1. We should keep talking about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. We shouldn’t celebrate the fact that one or few who are allowed to succeed. Instead, we should demand that others are given the same opportunities, just like Davis did during her acceptance speech. We should insist that more black women get leading roles in TV and films, and then do the same for Latinas and Asian American women and Arab American women and everyone else. We should demand this in every sphere where we have influence—in our blogs, books, TV interviews, and award speeches. We shouldn’t stop making demands until it happens.

  2. Then, we should demand that the directors of TV and film reflect the rich diversity of our country. Once women, people of color, and women of color are represented behind the camera proportionally, perhaps we won’t have to endure conversations like these anymore.

  3. Next, we should insist that TV writers aren’t all white and mostly male. What will it take for TV shows to go from having all white (and mostly male) writers, as the Late Show with Stephen Colbert does, to writing rooms that look like this?

We shouldn’t celebrate the few scraps that have been thrown to us. Instead, we should demand more. Why celebrate crumbs when there is a feast to be had?