The Real Win Behind Viola Davis' Emmy

Although it seems like the word “historic” is thrown around in the post-Emmy’s buzz every year, this year it seems well-earned. Viola Davis — who stole the hearts of thousands and inspired countless think-pieces in her role as university law professor Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder — won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, making her the first African-American women to win the honor.

And as Davis accepted her award, she made an important point about opportunities for people of color in the entertainment industry — and even more specifically women of color. Davis begins her speech with a Harriet Tubman quote and ends it by thanking the directors and producers that have given women of color a chance to shine in roles traditionally given to white women.

Diversity in television is unarguably lacking. A 2014 study found that people of color make up only 5.1% of lead actors in broadcast comedies and dramas. But despite people of color only occupying one lead role for every 20 available, women of color dominated the Emmy’s this year. Earlier in the evening Uzo Aduba won for the Supporting Actress Drama category for her role in Orange Is The New Black while Regina King brought home the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for American Crime.

While these Emmy wins are definitely showing more openness to diverse casts, they also show that diversity behind the camera seems to be the most important factor to diversity in front of it. As Viola Davis pointed out, roles for women of color only exist when women of color are given the opportunity to have them. With Shonda Rhimes, Jenji Kohan, and John Ridley producing each of the shows that led to the wins for the actresses, it seems obvious that deviating from the stronghold that straight, white males have on the background of the entertainment industry leads to the most change in the faces we see populating our TV screens.  

What did we learn from this year’s Emmy’s? Maybe diversity in media is getting a little better — or at least way more appreciation. And while that’s not surprising seeing the strength of shows like HTGAWM, OITNB and Empire — whose diverse casts and crews shine — this may be the first time that the “historic” Emmy’s are really leading us to a better place in television history: one where diversity is no longer rare.

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