Viola Davis's History-Making Win, Brilliant Speech & The Twitter Shitstorm That Followed
Last night at the 67th Emmys, How To Get Away With Murder’s Viola Davis made history, becoming the first-ever black woman to win Outstanding Actress in a Drama. She took to the stage in triumph, and delivered a speech that was powerful, beautiful and spoke to the adversity she and other actresses of color face in Hollywood.
Here’s the transciption:
“‘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 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.”
We’re with Taraji P. Henson on this:
Twitter blew up with fans praising Davis and her wonderful speech, and astounded comments about how it took this long to break this color barrier. Patricia Arquette—who for better and worse made her own award moment into a call for equality—responded:
@violadavis Congratulations! You should have already had a shelf of those because you are always brilliant!— Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) September 21, 2015
It is totally crazy and insane that it took until 2015 for a black actress to win best lead actress at the Emmys.— Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) September 21, 2015
But there was also a dark side of Twitter (because isn’t there always) of people who took this moment to mock and minimize Davis’s message. They found their unwitting champion in General Hospital’s Nancy Lee Grahn:
She began by cracking a ill-timed and poor joke. Then tweeted and deleted this doozy:
@nxssy I do 2. I think she's the bees knees but she's elite of TV performers. Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
@NancyLeeGrahn Stop that right now. It is a venue for whatever the WINNER wants 2 say.It is her win. She is saying something that is proven— Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) September 21, 2015
As Twitter responded to Grahn with calls of “check your privilege” and “racist,” she struggled to readjust with essentially #yesallactresses:
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.— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
Okay. A couple of things. 1) People attack Grahn because she’s just a soap opera actress. But remember, lots of great performers came out of soaps. So let’s not allow that as a reason to dismiss her arguments. 2) Let’s dismiss them because they come from a place of unrecognized privilege.
It’s tough being an actress. Period. Full stop. You’re pushed to sexualize your body. You face rejection every day. You are far less likely to get to audition for lead roles than your male peers. But. Big big BUT—it is much harder to be an actress of color. The default setting for movie and TV heroines is white, so agents won’t likely put their black clients up for a role unless it specifically calls for a black actress. So the opportunities are even more limited.
Here’s Davis on the matter from her The Help Oscar run:
This is where the whole meritocracy matter comes into play. A lot of people like to pretend it’s always “the best” or “the right” performer who gets the role. But there is no one perfect performer. That’s a romantic Hollywood myth that plays well at junkets. Talent is just one factor among many in the casting process. Major elements that come into casting also include scheduling, pay demands, personal connections, and ingrained biases. And one of those biases producers seem to have is that white characters are universally relatable, but characters of color are not.
Since 2008 Davis has earned two Oscar nominations (Doubt and The Help) and now won an Emmy. But that means it took her 43 years before she was offered the kind of roles these award ceremonies recognize. It’s harder out there for a black actress. And good for her for drawing attention to that. Her win was glorious, her speech inspiring.
Now as for Grahn. I don’t think she’s a racist. I think she’s oblivious. I think she knows how hard it is to be an actress, but has never really thought before about the inherent advantages her skin color allows. But last night, she got a hell of an education courtesy of Twitterers. And to her credit, she didn’t shut down like some people. She responded to tweets all night long. And while some were patient and some were cruel, she came out the other side with a new perspective.
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— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
Schooled. As surrogate 2 last democratic presidents I thought I needed no lesson in equality. I was wrong. Please accept my apology.— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege. My intention was not to (cont) http://t.co/uyre6WPeeH— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
Full Tweet via TwitLonger:
“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”
I’ve never heard of Grahn before. But looking over her timeline, she’s an actress who is using her fame to advocate for Planned Parenthood, to mock the nonsense spouted during GOP debates and to ridicule bigots like Kim Davis. Basically, she’s the kind of celeb we at Pajiba would be praising in most instances. I don’t think Grahn is a bigot. I think she had a blindspot. We all do. And it sucks when you think yourself a good person, and you get called out on a blind spot. Especially because getting called out is rarely calmly done.
We should call people out on these blind spots, encouraging them to empathy and understanding other’s perspectives. But let’s not be bullying PC Principals about it.
Unfortunately, Grahn should have left it at her last apology. But she’s still replying to attacks on Twitter, and digging herself deeper and deeper.
Kristy Puchko would like the focus to go back to Davis now.