When I was sixteen, I was sure I was going to be an actress.
I ended up initially getting admitted into USC as a theater student. There are lots of reasons I didn’t continue with a career in acting, the biggest being I realized I didn’t actually love it. It was also clear from my first few years in “the industry” just how few stories there were for people who looked like me. The ones that did exist were only showing in then-small theaters like CASA0101.
It also felt like the stories that did exist would never let someone like me in them. “You’d make it a ‘Latina story’ if I cast you,” one person told me, apparently meaning it wouldn’t be marketable. I was asked if I could have a more “cholo” or “ghetto” accent. This is what it means to be Brown in Hollywood (and I’m sure it was far worse for those who pursued the career more seriously).
I have no doubt these structural issues continue. This is why seeing Viola Davis’s Emmy Acceptance Speech last night warmed me so much:
Davis is… amazing. She not only wins, but she uses her platform to call out systemic racism in Hollywood. Davis quotes Harriet Tubman and provides historical context for her speech, and she shares the win with other Black women.
There is still so far to go, but the sixteen-year-old actress in me smiled. Her speech is a source of strength and light for all young actresses and women of color out there. Viola Davis’s win and her subsequent speech show us that change can and must happen, because we will keep demanding it. Stories from people of color matter, and we deserve to play roles in those stories. As Davis points out, these stories have the power to “redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be Black.” Her win confirms that the power of representation to expand the mindsets we can have about ourselves (and that white media will have about us).
Her speech also reminds us of this important truth: the work continues, and we win when we call out tough truths and support each other along the way. Bravo.