This past Sunday night Viola Davis won an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for How To Get Away With Murder making her the first African-American to ever win that particular award, and this is what she said:
“‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s.
And let me tell you something: 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.
Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”
What a moment for Viola Davis, for women of color, to be able to get that award; for young black actresses to see that they can be the lead in a television show and be recognized for their work. And for Viola to call out the industry, to ask that they create roles for women of color everywhere was an amazing thing to do.
Except … not everyone was happy with Viola Davis. Nancy Lee Grahn has been a soap opera actress, most notably appearing on General Hospital for some twenty years, and she had a lot to say, er, Tweet:
“I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys”
Oh, sorry Nancy. Sorry that Viola’s speech didn’t move you; sorry the words and the experiences of her nearly thirty year career, and the struggles she’s faced being a woman of color in Hollywood, weren’t up to your standards … soap opera standards. But she did go on:
“Im a fucking actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled.”
And here’s the issue. It’s akin to the kerfuffle over the Black Lives Matter movement. Viola Davis wasn’t saying, at all, that it’s only women of color, who are discriminated against, who get no respect in Hollywood, she’s speaking her truth, her experience, what she’s seen, what she knows, and Nancy Lee Grahn cannot fathom that.
And then she went on to suggest that perhaps Viola Davis has not been discriminated against as a black woman in Hollywood:
“I think she's the bees knees but she's elite of TV performers. Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against.”
Yes, Nancy Lee Grahn, a white woman, says she knows that Viola Davis has never felt the sting of discrimination because she’s a brilliant actress — well, she got that part right. But if Viola Davis is the “bee’s knees” as Grahn suggests, then why aren’t there all kinds of Viola, Davis projects out there? Why has it taken thirty years to recognize her talent?
Perhaps it’s because Viola is a dark-skinned woman of color, a subset of women of color, and she’s seen articles in print, and people quoted, saying that she isn’t beautiful or sexy or lead actress enough because her brown skin is a dark brown skin and not a light brown, more palatable to audiences, skin.
Nancy Lee Grahn has no idea what she’s talking about; she completely misheard what Davis said, and turned it into #AllActressesMatter.
“I never mean to diminish her accomplishment. I wish I could get her roles. She is a goddess. I want equality 4 ALL women, not just actors. … I apologize 2 anyone who I offended. I'm women advocate since I became one. After reading responses, I hear u and my tweet was badly phrased.”
Maybe then, Nancy Lee, until you learn to fully form sentences, or until you ask the writers at General Hospital to Tweet for you, you should think before you Tweet, and then, after thinking, and after it becomes clear that you have no idea what you’re talking about, maybe you should just keep quiet.
And the, again, she non-apologized:
“I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege. My intention was not to take this historic and important moment from Viola Davis or other women of color but I realize that my intention doesn’t matter here because that is what I ended up doing. I learned a lot tonight and I admit that there are still some things I don’t understand but I am trying to and will let this be a learning experience for me.”
Again, Nancy, think before you speak, or Tweet.
I understand that women have it tough in Hollywood, all women, but Viola Davis wasn't onstage speaking for all women; she was speaking of her own stories, her own struggles. And for you to denigrate that because she spoke her truth is just ridiculous.