Viola Davis put forth a call to action that Hollywood be more intentional in giving women of color — especially Black women — more critical roles. Here’s some steps Hollywood could take towards that aim.
By Britt Spruill
Hello, Hollywood. While accepting her historic win at the Emmys this weekend, High Priestess Viola Davis confronted you regarding the lack of acting roles for Women of Color. “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,” Davis remarked in her passionate speech.
Her words come after the recent “whitesplaining” of diversity from actor/director Matt Damon, insisting there is a certain time and place for such matters. He’s obviously wrong in so many ways, but Davis isn’t …and you know it. I urge you to heed her words and take action to close this tragic and unfortunate opportunity gap.
As a fat kid, I didn’t really go outside much growing up, so I spent most of my childhood parked in front of the TV. I will tell you that I am a black girl who has always indulged in her fair share of pop culture. Right now, I’m recalling one of my favorite childhood films, the 1998 classic remake The Parent Trap starring the incomparable Lindsay Lohan. I loved that movie and watched it so much that the cassette actually fell apart (remember VHS? VCR, kids?). I related to Lohan’s character even though I would never be white, redheaded, greeneyed, and freckled. My daddy didn’t own a vineyard, and my mama didn’t have a corporate job.
My point being, I grew up with a host of white characters parading across movie and television screens, and that’s all I had to work with.
Hollywood, if you’re thinking, “But wait, we gave you stuff like The Cosby Show, That’s So Raven, Gullah Gullah Island, Taina….” you’re missing the point.
For the most part, I grew up with stories of girls who didn’t look like me. I felt that stories like my own — black girls who grew up in trailer parks, or girls who were teased because their African American hair wasn’t as long or straight — deserve to be told because I was different. Sure, I danced around my room to the *NSYNC and Britney Spears. I had Backstreet Boys posters on my wall, too — but there was still a disconnect.
Hollywood, my question is this: Why can’t we present black female characters’ stories not as the foreign other, not as the abnormal, not as how the other half lives — but as the norm?
Why can’t we be the example to look up to? Black women birthed me, fed me, clothed me, whooped my ass when I needed it, and taught me right from wrong. We are not only mothers, but we are daughters, sisters, lovers. We climb mountains; we break records; we attend Ivy League universities. Our stories deserve to be told.
Hire black female writers. Hire black female directors. Cultivate young, talented, and creative Women of Color. Hollywood, Black women entertainers like myself exist in the thousands, and we’re ready to show you what we got.
If black women are hired in these roles, it means access to a wider audience and chances to reach young impressionable minds — like a young me — and tell them that they matter, too. All any tv show, film, book, etc. boils down to is the story, and at the center to any worthwhile store is truth. We need to hire black women so that we can tell our Truth with authority and authenticity. If you’re worried about money, you know the market exists. The film The Perfect Guy, starring Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, and Michael Ealy, opened #1 in the box office recently. A major motion picture with a black leading lady had people flocking to theaters. Yeah, there’s money here.
And to the young eager Creatives of Color, lucky for us that we don’t have to wait for Hollywood to decide to graciously take a shot on us. Go ahead and start writing and filming. Find others like yourself who are itching to give an audience to the story behind them. Anybody with an iPhone can make a movie. Setting up a Youtube channel is free.
Shakespeare reminds us, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to forturne; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries.” The time is now. Hollywood, don’t miss the multitude of opportunities that await in giving women of color the chance to tell their stories and shine.
*Featured Image Credit: www.abc30.com
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