Going into the 2015 Emmy Awards ceremony, I was cautious with my excitement. While this year’s show highlighted more Black actors and actresses than ever before, you can never be sure if those nominations will turn into a win. There are often politics at play in the selection of who wins what awards, and people of color have always managed to come out on the bottom. But this year, all that has changed.
I should’ve known something was in the air when Andy Samberg dropped a few jokes about the lack of diversity in Hollywood in his opening number. But I never could have been prepared for what was to come.
I watched with great pride as a joy-filled Viola Davis gave a standing ovation to a shocked and emotional Regina King. She did so to celebrate after King won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in the ABC anthology drama, American Crime. I was thrilled to see this woman who I had grown up watching on 227 and Southland and watched grow into a mega-talented actress and director receive her accolade. It was about time.
There’s no possibility of Taraji or Viola winning. They’d never give us more than one award in the same event. That’s what I thought to myself after King’s win. Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis had turned in such monumental performances on their respected shows that I hoped one of the ladies would win. But as a regular award show viewer, you start to note and expect patterns.
Then, the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series came up. I tempered myself. Now, Uzo Aduba is new to this category since they changed Orange is the New Black from a comedy to a drama. There’s no denying her talent, but she already won last year. She’s not a Tina Fey or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to mainstream Hollywood, so there’s no way they’d ever give her two awards in a row.
And yet, they did. When Jamie Lee Curtis announced her name, I was as surprised as Aduba herself. She got to the stage and was barely able to keep the tears in as she shook her way through a very grateful acceptance speech.
By the time Adrian Brody sauntered onto the stage to present the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama award, I was seriously doubting myself. Well, maybe people are ready to give credit where credit is due… When Brody called Davis’s name, I was taken aback. My eyes teared up and I stood up to get closer to the TV. As Taraji P. Henson, her fellow nominee, ran to Davis and hugged her with all of her might, I could barely contain my tears. To see this display of two Black women in their bliss, one congratulating the other, fully knowing the impact of the history being made, was Black Excellence embodied for all to witness on a national scale. Then cut to Kerry Washington weeping and clapping in the audience and my thug was all the way gone. The tears were a’flowin’.
And then there was the speech:
“”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.”
The first Black actress to win the award for best leading actress in a drama series. Can you believe that? Debbie Allen was the first Black actress to receive the nomination for her role in Fame, and she would go on to receive the nomination four consecutive times, but she never took the award home. Other actresses like Alfre Woodward and Cicely Tyson have received the nomination as well, as well as Kerry Washington, but the “White streak” would not be broken until last night.
Inevitably, her speech will probably be taken out of context. Inevitably, someone will complain that she excluded White women and it will turn into a pseudo #AllActressesMatter narrative and a watered down diversity debate. People can do all they want to destroy this moment, but it will be to no avail. For last night, we watched three beautiful, talented and accomplished Black women make Hollywood history. And hopefully, in the years to come, people of color being recognized for their talents in Hollywood will become commonplace instead of being an anomaly.