By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
The Emmy’s are in, and fans all over the country are thrilled for their favorite shows, writers, and stars. This year, the talented spread of winners is more representative of minorities than ever with three big name women of color gracing the stage for acceptance speeches.
Viola Davis, Regina King, and Uzo Aduba all accepted awards for outstanding lead and supporting acting performances. Not only are these women powerhouses of dramatic and comedic talent, but also important role models for women of color in a world where media representation of minorities is very limited.
It is no surprise that there have been so few Emmys for black women in the past. There have simply not been as many shows and movies made about them. As Davis said in her acceptance speech, “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.” Davis is the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her work in “How to Get Away With Murder.” Davis is right. Historically, there have not been roles for women of color on TV or in the movies. The entertainment industry continues to be notoriously male and white. Her award is a huge historical landmark because for the first time ever, women of color are beginning to break through that barrier.
This year’s Emmy’s mark an important shift in the TV industry. Shows like “Orange is the New Black,” whose whole premise is to highlight the diverse and complex development of characters of all kinds of underrepresented minorities, are getting enormous publicity and recognition. Rightly so, Aduba received another Emmy this year for her incredible work on the show as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. Her character is a black lesbian woman with a mental illness, representing and highlighting the struggles, as well as the humanity and strength, of people of all kinds of minority backgrounds. People like Aduba are so important, because their work gives a voice to young women and girls of color all over the country who are finally starting to have stars to look up to that look like themselves. In her speech, Aduba thanked her writers for “creating the platform” and creating a space for new voices to be heard. King also won her very first Emmy, almost tearing up during her speech and thanking her writers and team for the opportunity.
It is important to remember, however, that this small victory is just one step in a much larger process. The entertainment industry is still overwhelmingly white and male. In a March 2015 article responding to the lack of diversity at the Oscars, “Time Magazine” cited up-to-date data from the Writer’s Guild of America showing that in 2013-2014, only 29 percent of TV staff writers were female, and only 13.7 percent were non- white. Over a period of 12 years, there was only a 2.2 percent change in gender diversity among the writers, and a 4.9 percent increase in racial diversity.
This obviously does not represent the general population of their viewers in America very well, and if we want to continue to have actresses like King, Aduba, and Davis receive awards and get recognition for their work, than we also need more diverse writers to be creating more diverse stories. We can’t have more diverse actors if there are no parts written for diverse characters.
Later in her speech, Davis applauded many other powerful women of color in the entertainment industry for their talent and success despite this racial and gender barrier. As we continue to search for more representation, more compelling, complex, and relatable stories, we can follow in Davis’ gratitude for the writers who are already beginning to make it happen. She said, “So here’s to all the writers, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”