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At the 67th Emmy Awards in 2015, actress Viola Davis became the first woman of color to ever win the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of a lawyer in the television show,How To Get Away With Murder. The actress started her acceptance speech with a quote from American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, acknowledged and paid tribute to the struggles and achievements of past and current women and men of color in the entertainment industry, and talked about the systemic exclusion of people of color from Hollywood and the U.S. entertainment industry. She said, “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.”

discussion

Is it surprising that this is the first time a woman of color ever won in this category over the 67-year history of the U.S. television award show? Why or why not? In what ways is this significant?

Viola Davis opened her speech with a quote from African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman: “‘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…” At the end of her speech, she thanks a group of people for “taking us over that line.” What line is she talking about? Who does she list, and why? How does her speech connect the struggles of the past to the struggles of the present?

What was Viola Davis pointing out when she said, “…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”? How do her comments speak to a history of systematic exclusionary practices in the entertainment industry?

Why is behind the camera diversity (such as directors, producers, and writers) just as important as more visible onscreen diversity?

Look at this infographic about the diversity gap in the Emmy Awards over a 24-year period: 1992-2015. What surprises you?

When you think about the people you see on mainstream television and film, what groups of people are not frequently represented, or only portrayed in limited ways? How does this impact viewers?