Do you know why it’s important to have more women in interesting roles? It’s so little girls across the country can look at a TV screen and see someone that looks like them be a doctor, a lawyer, a complicated human dealing with complicated issues. That there doesn’t need to be a man to fix things for them, there is nothing out there that they don’t have the right to try for.
However, do you know what little girls we’re talking about when I say that? When white people like me say that? It’s little white girls. We see a movie like Suffragette and we are STOKED because “awesome women doing amazing things, inspiring us to fight!” Do you know what little black girls see when they see the same thing? White women can do amazing things. Do you know what they still see over and over on tv, in the movies, and in books? Black girls (and Latinas, and any non-white girls) are allowed to be the funny friend, the maid, the nanny to a family that does great things.
Do you want to know why Viola Davis is so important? She is the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. The first woman to win an Emmy was at the inaugural award show in 1949. It has taken SIXTY SIX years for a black woman to win as a dramatic actress in a lead role. Do you think maybe (just maybe) there could possibly be some truth to her speech? “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity.” You would have to be blind not to see the truth in that statement, when you count up how many women of color have even been given the opportunity to have a lead role in television. Historically, the number is embarrassingly low.
What do little girls of color see when they look out at the crowd at the Emmy’s? The Oscars? Previews at the movies?
A sea of white faces, which tells them over and over and over, this is not for you. Imagine that you are a little girl of color, and you are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” What do you say? When you’re little you think “I’m gonna be an astronaut” or “I want to be a doctor.” Something big. Something majestic. Something great. Then you start growing up, and you see the world you live in. You start thinking “oh I guess that’s not for someone like me, because I never see someone that looks like me do that.” Would you want your daughters to think that?
I am so glad there are more roles being offered to women of color, so that now a little girl will see Viola Davis, and she will see what little white girls have for a long time. Someone that looks like her that can be something big. Something majestic. And there needs to be so much more, because the default character in Hollywood is still white.
That’s why representation matters. It doesn’t negate the fight for equal rights for anyone else, it just recognizes there are entire groups of people that we need to be better for. So pretty please, Hollywood, with sugar on top. Give us more. We deserve it.
Anyone wanting to say “but black people have their own TV station” can get the fuck off my lawn. You are missing the entire point.