There’s no point in anyone getting their hopes up that Viola Davis winning an Emmy for How to Get Away With Murder is some sign of things to come, that racism Hollywood style has in the least abated.
For one, the strongest reason Davis received the well-deserved award had little if anything to do with her talent. She doubtless won because the show’s assimilation-mad executive producer Shonda Rhimes, who created the silly series Scandal, with Kerry Washington turning down hunky, handsome upscale Black men to run behind one White man after another, pulled strings.
Two, we‘ve seen historically how the industry patronizingly allows exceptions to prove the proverbial rule, someone Black walking off with prestigious honors one year and nobody — African American, Latino, Asian or Native American — getting so much as the time of days for years later. For that matter, when last did an Esai Morales or Lauren Velez, a Ken Watanabe or Lucy Liu or a Wes Studi or Tantoo Cardinal see their abilities acknowledged, outside their own cultural circles, anyway? Certainly not on a national scale in these supposedly new, improved, multi-culti-sensitive U. S. of A.
Rhimes is not the only sellout throwing weight around in Tinseltown. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences token president Cheryl Boone, earlier this year, had to have her hand forced by protest in the media before she made the mealy-mouthed statement, “Personally, I would love to see and look forward to see[ing] a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
She’d said nothing of the kind the day before, shining and grinning at the Academy Awards. And hasn’t said a damned thing since. These two suck-ups to institutionalized supremacy are enough by themselves to keep real progress in American cinema bottlenecked in a chokehold of trickle-through discrimination.
They have company. But, thankfully, unlike Queen Latifah who made a complete horses’ a** of herself gushing all over attendees at The 2008 Golden Globe Awards about being recognized by “all my brothers and sisters” a sea of smiling, White faces — Viola’s acceptance speech on receiving an Emmy Award after 66 years of Black women being relegated to the periphery made a world of sense. “Let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Hopefully, it won’t be enough to disqualify her from casting directors’ rolls in the upcoming years. It is no great leap of the imagination to surmise Davis can be bathed in the spotlight today and Viola Who tomorrow. Only White actors have it like that, to safely expect continued, still-greater success on the heels of such a victory.
The only way for this to happen more than once in a while — and ensure those roles are there without us depending on the likes of a Shonda Rhimes — is for that happy host of house-negroes, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton and so on, to turn in the membership to the I Have Overcome Club and throw their millions behind a Black Hollywood where Black actors, directors and screenwriters can get their well-earned due.
Good luck. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to take place. And don’t be so fast to blame White racism alone for obstructing progress as long as Black complacency sits on its behind, enjoying things exactly as they are.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.