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Viola Davis' Emmy, Successful Black Dramas Will Lead to More Opportunities

by Todd A. Smith

 

A Long Time Coming

 

Viola Davis’ Emmy win and acceptance speech spoke plainly to the lack of opportunities for Black women on television.


In the 70-plus years of the Emmy Award, no Black actress had ever won for a dramatic role, which seems shocking and understandable all at the same time.


For decades, Black life in dramatic form was noticeably absent from television.


But thanks to the success of shows like “Empire,” “Scandal” and Davis’ “How to Get Away with Murder,” Black life is being portrayed in dramas at a record rate.


While many have criticized perceived stereotypes perpetuated by shows like “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane,” the alternative is for there to be no Black faces on the small screen, which is something that Black actors and Black actresses have dealt with for decades and decades.


After winning the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Drama Davis stated, “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.  So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be Black.


“And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line.”


The line that Davis spoke of was the line of equality and opportunity that Harriet Tubman dreamed of crossing in the 1800s.


Thanks to the aforementioned actresses, countless actors, and countless writers, producers and directors, Black actors and actresses like Viola Davis are finally crossing that line and getting a wide range of roles to showcase their wide range of talent.


Unfortunately, many in the Black community only see perceived stereotypes when they should see increased opportunities for Black creative talent.


According to an April 3 article in RegalMag.com, six of the nine writers on “Empire” are of color.


Because of the plethora of late-night Black soap operas, directing opportunities have also opened up for people like Regina King, who also won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, to Debbie Allen to Kim Fields.


“Empire” executive producer Wendy Calhoun stated, “I’ve never worked with so many African-American writers before.”


Unfortunately, Calhoun had never worked with so many Black writers before because until recently very few opportunities existed for writers of color.


And thanks to the success of these late-night soap operas more opportunities will become available in the near future.


However, Hollywood is known for following the trends.  Whatever makes money for Hollywood executives is what the consumer will get more of.


And if we do not support these Black shows, those same opportunities will soon disappear.


During a recent taping of my talk show “Regal Roundtable,” comedian Marcus D. Wiley of “The Yolanda Adams Morning Show” stated that creative people write their truth and every person’s truth is unique to them.


So while many criticize “Empire,” “Being Mary Jane” and “Power” for the images projected of Black Americans, those same people must realize that those stories are real to many Black Americans.


And if we cannot tell our stories, we cannot provide the opportunities that Davis so eloquently spoke of in her acceptance speech.

 

And if Rhimes and Tyler Perry and 50 Cent can tell their stories today, more Black producers, actors and actresses will be able to tell their unique stories in the near future.


This article was published on Friday 25 September, 2015.
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