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Viola Davis Talks Sisterhood And Her Historical Emmy Award


gettyimages-489400142Viola Davis made history at this year’s Emmy Awards, when she took home an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama for her work in How To Get Away With Murder. Davis’ award marked the first time an African-American woman has ever received the award.

The prestige and history-making award honored and humbled Viola, which was obvious during her acceptance speech, in which she quoted Harriet Tubman and called attention to the fact that there are much fewer roles for black women in Hollywood than there are for white:

In my dreams and visions, I seemed to see a line, and on the other side of that line were green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white ladies, who stretched out their arms to me over the line, but I couldn’t reach them no-how.

She continued:

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.

Viola Davis has long been a groundbreaking force in Hollywood, and this is her most prestigious honor yet.

Recently, The New York Times spoke to Viola Davis about the award, and how she interprets its significance. She took another opportunity to speak her mind about social issues, and how she dealt with the joy she felt at the receipt of the award.

Not only did she feel overwhelming joy about the award, but she also recognized her own growing maturity: “I usually go inside my head and start overthinking things whenever something good happens and talk myself out of the joy. But I haven’t done that this time, so I think that’s a sign of maturity.”

That maturity also comes hand in hand with the knowledge that she’s now a role model, and that her voice now carries so much more weight in culture. She cited something Meryl Streep told her and has realized that she’s now so much more influential than she has been:

Just people admiring my speech makes me feel really good. I remember Meryl Streep told me once, “You know, Viola, these young girls are always listening to us — every word we say is hitting them in a way that you can’t even imagine.” And that’s what I’ve found to be very true.

Davis is so right when she recognizes her own morphing role in society, and her place within a structure that is less welcoming to women than to men, and much less welcoming to African-American women than any other social group. She also speaks at length about the community of African-American women in Hollywood with whom she has formed a community of strength, sisterhood and support. It is this endeavor at support and mutual encouragement that will perhaps make the most difference in Hollywood:

See, these are actresses I get together with every year, in community, in camaraderie, in sisterhood. It’s pointless to be in competition — it’s only adding to the pressure that the business is putting on you…And I think that’s why it was important for me and Taraji [P. Henson, who was also nominated in the same category] to acknowledge that in each other, to not just feel like it is competition, to just say, I see you, yes, I see you, too. I love you. I take you in.

These words fill my heart with joy. It’s more than encouraging to see women come together and support each other, to eliminate any pressure for competition, and to unite to become a force for change. Viola Davis’ award has given her the platform to effect change, along with the women she has teamed up with to further the cause.

Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.

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