Reel Woman Of The Week: Viola Davis

After making history at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards as the first African-American woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, for her role in “How to Get Away with Murder,” it was only natural that Viola Davis would be crowned our ‘Reel Woman of the Week’. However, it wasn’t just her win that made our eyes water, but her inspirational speech that followed.

“‘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, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods. To Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”

So, let us relive some of Viola’s most inspirational quotes and relish on the changes such a win has the potential to have on the industry as a whole.

From her speech at the 2012 Crystal Award for Excellence in Film:
“I realised I spent my entire life trying to be better than my mom. That I am the daughter and the granddaughter and the great-granddaughter and the great-great-great-granddaughter of so many women whose dreams are in the graveyard. They’re women of color who worked in the tobacco fields and the cotton fields and had children by the time they were 15, left school in the 8th grade and a dream was just ambiguous to them. And I realized that I wanted to have a dream. And I think that I chose acting because all my life has been filled with stories of people of colour that have been filled with so much complexity and duality. And so much of my life has been filled with so much pain and humor and joyous moments that I felt the need to express that. And I couldn’t do it in a 9 to 5 [job]. I believe unlike my mum and my grandmother and my great-grandmother that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, truly being who you are. And I’ve spent far too long apologising for that — my age, my color, my lack of classical beauty — that now at the age of…well at the age of 46 I’m very proud to be Viola Davis, for whatever it’s worth. And I never want to look in the face of a young actress of color and think to myself, ‘What’s out there for her?’ … The higher purpose of my life is not the song and dance or the acclaim, but to rise up, to pull up others and leave the world and industry a better place.” 

From the Screen Actors Awards 2012:
“The stain of racism and sexism, is not just for people of color or women, it’s all of our burden, all of us. And we absolutely, I don’t care how ordinary you may feel, we, all of us can inspire change, every single one of us.”

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From Oprah’s Next Chapter 2013:
“When you only have two or three categories for black actresses, therein lies [the problem] because you want to work. So, it’s a natural instinct if you throw a piece of cheese in a room full or rats that they’re going to claw at each other. It’s natural.”

From Entertainment Weekly:
“The internal sexism within womanhood is very ­predominant in Hollywood, because we all want to be ­successful. There’s a plug to it: You all have to be skinny! You all have to be pretty! You all have to be likable, because that’s the ­formula that works. On an ­executive level. On a power level. And it’s not always the same working with black people, because of the internalised racism. The colourism.”

“I’m a black woman who is from Central Falls, Rhode Island. I’m dark skinned. I’m quirky. I’m shy. I’m strong. I’m guarded. I’m weak at times. I’m sensual. I’m not overtly sexual. I am so many things in so many ways and I will never see myself on screen. And the reason I will never see myself up on screen is because that does not translate with being black.”

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From National Public Radio:
“And that’s what people want to see when they go to the theater. I believe at the end of the day, they want to see themselves – parts of their lives they can recognize. And I feel if I can achieve that, it’s pretty spectacular.”

From Tavis Smiley:
“It [the movie industry] wears me out on a different level because for me there aren’t enough multifaceted roles for women who look like me. And when I say multifaceted roles, I mean roles where I open up the script, and the character goes on a journey. Right, see, a balance, where I’m not just always dignified, I know everything, I see everything, I’m just this straight-backed Black woman/friend/all-knowing-seeing/whatever. I’m talking about a human being, multifaceted human being who actually lives, breathes, all of that, OK? […] my whole thing is: do I always have to be noble? […] I’m saying that as an artist you’ve gotta see the mess. That’s what we do. What we do as artists is we get a human being, and it’s like putting together a puzzle. And this puzzle, it’s gotta be a mixture, a multifaceted mixture of human emotions, and not all of it is gonna be pretty. We’re not gonna win, we’re not gonna be heroes, y’know, OK?”

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From The Hollywood Reporter:
“It would be great to bust through and make history. But what’s more important is the opportunity to continue to get roles that are complicated and wonderful, to be a part of the narrative and to get to do what our counterparts are able to do. It doesn’t just stop at holding an award.”

From E Online: 
“We know the road of lack of recognition, of people telling us that we can’t headline a movie because black women don’t translate overseas, that every time we try to break the glass ceiling, people say no, people push back. And it’s everything that people don’t see out there.”

From Collider:
“You absolutely feel, as a black actress, that you’ve got to ride the wave because there’s just so few roles. I hate to play that card, but it’s the truth. There’s not a lot of roles.

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From The Huffington Post:
“We’re in crisis mode as black actresses. It’s not only in the sheer number of roles that are offered and that are out there, but the quality of the roles. The quality – and therein lies the problem. We’re in deprivation mode because me, Alfre and Phylicia, we’re in the same category.  Whereas if you take a Caucasian actress, you have the one who are the teens, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s – they’re all different. There are roles for each of them. But you only have two or three categories for black actresses.

From the New York Times:
“It’s what I’ve had my eye on for so long. It’s time for people to see us, people of color, for what we really are: complicated.”

Gifs: giphy

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