Viola Davis became the first African American ever to win best actress in a drama series, for her role on ABC's, How to Get Away with Murder, on Sunday night at the Emmy Awards.
By the time Davis went onstage to accept her award for the 2015 Emmys, she knew full well what it meant.
She opened her speech with a quote from Harriet Tubman.
“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.”
In the crowd, Taraji P. Henson applauded Davis’ win with an extended standing ovation, after the rest of the audience sat down. Emotionally, Davis recognized many of the incredible women who helped paved the way:
“And to the Taraji P. Hensons’ and Kerry Washingtons’, the Halle Berrys’, the Nicole Beharies’, the Meagan Goodes’, to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you for the Television Academy. Thank you”
Davis grew up in Rhode Island, where she first began acting in high school and then went on to receive a Bachelors of Fine Arts at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts.
Davis made her Broadway debut in 1996. She won her first Tony Award in 2001, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for Doubt. In 2011, Davis was also nominated for her leading role in the hit dramatic film, The Help.
Davis got a few backlashes when it came to her speech, mostly from soap star, Nancy Lee Grahn, 57, who tweeted multiple times on Sunday:
"I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech,” wrote Grahn, who’s well-known for her role as Alexis Cassadine on General Hospital. The tweet continued, "… but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it."
After being attacked by Davis’ Twitter followers, Grahn delivered an apology providing clarity concerning her tweets.
"I never meant to diminish her accomplishment. I wish I could get her roles. She is a goddess. I want equality 4 ALL women, not just actors."
Davis has always been very vocal about the lack of opportunities she and other black actresses face, and her speech was no different.
Black actors have always had a tough time getting their recognition in Hollywood.
After Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Academy Award in 1964 for best actor, it would take almost four decades before Halle Berry won for best lead actress for the film, Monster Ball.
To support Davis’ statement concerning black opportunity in film, it is safe to say that these roles are only there because white actors, simply, cannot play the role.
Sidney Poitier’s Oscar win in 1964, for playing a black itinerant worker in Lilies of the Field, Jamie Foxx’s win in 2004, for playing Ray Charles in Ray, to Forest Whitaker won in 2006 for playing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, are all examples of “black opportunity.”
One black man to win Best Actor for a role that could have been played by a white actor is Denzel Washington, who, in 2001, won for his leading role as a LAPD detective in Training Day.
Fairness in race, concerning Best Actor, does not mean only pleasing black men in roles white men could never play.
Instead, when Hollywood casting directors view people of color as praiseworthy of equal opportunities to shine when a black actor in the role of a fictitious character would play father, child, educator, scholar, doctor or otherwise non-racially veiled character is chosen for and wins Best Actor.
“Black Hollywood” sees the kind of work that needs to be put out there in order to make a change.
Davis’ 2015 Emmy Acceptance Speech will never be forgotten, as she did not lose any support, or supporters of other actresses of color.
Davis had the courage to stand on stage and address her platform to start a discussion about an issue that hardly ever gets talked about.
The big question is whether or not Viola Davis’ speech will open more doors for black nominees at the next Emmys.