On September 20, 2015, Viola Davis became the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. In addition to her award, her acceptance speech was perhaps one of the most riveting parts of that evening. Quoting Harriet Tubman to drive the point that it is opportunity that bars women of color from excelling, she thanked many in the TV community who “have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Recently, television has been making strides to be diverse. Why does this matter? “It’s better TV” argues New York Times critics Wesley Morris and James Poniewozik. In light of the overwhelming whiteness of the Academy Awards, the shift in television business and culture to include people and stories of color is a much-needed and step in the right direction. Television today showcases more black, Latin and Asian actors—many women—than film. What has prompted this shift? Poniewozik is of the belief that “there are younger viewers for whom diversity—racial, religious, sexual—is their world. That audience wants authenticity; advertisers want that audience.”
For Morris, authenticity isn’t about less “white” television,
“but about putting on other kinds of people than there have previously been. No one wants to take away anybody’s ‘The Affair’ or ‘Bachelor in Paradise.’ It’s just exciting to watch television in a time when a show will encourage Niecy Nash and Kerry Washington to look at America’s past and roll their eyes.”
It’s not about being able to check-off your diversity minimum, but rather about plurality: of identities, stories and experiences.Viola Davis in her speech last year said, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Do you agree that more (and diverse) stories are making their way onto TV? Why do you think TV is more diverse than the Big Screen?