Feedback
News

Editorial: Viola Davis and The Fearlessness of Black Girl Magic

67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room

Actress Viola Davis poses in the press room at the 67th annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic

A few months ago I got into a heated exchange with a friend of mine that happens to be white.

She was frustrated with my unapologetic support for Black Lives Matter on my social media platforms.

She felt that by me declaring my allegiance and challenging the status quo of white supremacy that somehow this action diminished our friendship and overlooked the goodness—that all white people were not bad.

I agreed on one of her points—not all white people are racist—but not all white people are conscious either. They are not all conscious and truly awake to the privilege their skin affords them in a world that values whiteness above all else.

67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room
Viola Davis poses at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Steve Granitz / WireImage

We are all able to remain asleep until someone or some group is fearless enough to sound the alarm—and keep ringing it until we can no longer find comfort in our slumber. Emmy Award winning actress, Viola Davis was that siren.

While the Emmys may not have been like #OscarsSoWhite with over twenty black actors and actresses being nominated, it was far from equal representation. Those extraordinaire actors of color were still just sprinkles of pepper in a sea of salt.

As she stood on that stage, fierce, beautiful and firm in her blackness and womaness, she brought every black woman in the room and outside of it with her.

But when Viola’s name was read, and she made history as the first African American woman to win an Emmy for a leading role in a drama series, the world saw nothing else—but this amazing black actress and her black girl magic section of sisters cheering for her—and themselves.

Davis’s opening line was not one thanking God, or even her family—it was instead an ode to Harriet Tubman and the realization that 102 years after her death and work as an abolitionist, connecting with whites and blacks to bring about freedom— Viola Davis and her black sisters had crossed the imaginary line, which Tubman spoke about that separates them from their white counterparts. Davis said:

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.

It was just a year ago, when the New York Times writer, Allessandra Stanley, labeled Davis as “not classically beautiful”, because of her “dark skin” and “age”. Her statement was underhanded and racist -- essentially declaring that only certain black women like Kerry Washington and Halle Berry are “palpable” to the white mainstream, both of whom she mentioned.

Hollywood has set up a series of barriers that have black actresses vying for the one role that is presented to them, to which Viola had this to say in her speech, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there”.

Actress Gabrielle Union, whom Davis gave a shout out to during her speech, made mention to her own personal evolution about not “tap dancing on the misery of other black actresses” during her brilliant speech at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon in 2013.

...Being unapologetically black and loving and fighting for your community doesn’t mean being anti-white, it means holding your head up high in a world that tells you, you should be ashamed.

Union talked about what it means to be fierce and fearless and that means speaking up about racism and injustice in the casting process that has only one black name come up—if directors decide to “go that way”.

Union said, “It’s hard to be authentic in a town [Hollywood] that rewards pretending.”

A town that would have her believe that it was OK not to challenge the casting process, as long as she was the sole black name considered. She went on to say that she had grown and that being fearless means “using your voice for more than self-promotion”.

In Davis’s speech at the 2015 Emmys there was no pretending and her voice was in full use. There was no light treading, as not to offend the audience, or the industry.

Instead she called out racism and challenged a system that refuses to see black women as whole, complete and complicated people whose stories and experiences are worth telling.

Related: Nancy Grahn Apologizes For Bashing Viola Davis' Emmy Win

As she stood on that stage, fierce, beautiful and firm in her blackness and womaness, she brought every black woman in the room and outside of it with her.

She talked to us and for us. She was our sister, our mother, our daughter our friend—allowing herself to shine and be seen in a world that fights tooth and nail to arrest black women’s power.

Malcolm X once said, “The media is the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent”. Media and imagery also has the power to shift culture and challenge the status quo—Viola Davis knew this and with her history making moment she shined a light on all of us.

What Viola taught us with her speech, is what I tried to teach my friend not too long ago, being unapologetically black and loving and fighting for your community doesn’t mean being anti-white, it means holding your head up high in a world that tells you, you should be ashamed.

It means remembering that you have and you are black girl magic in a world that wants to paint you as subservient or ordinary.

Viola Davis made it across that not too imaginary line last night—and she brought each and every one of us over it with her—which in and of itself was fierce and fearless, black girl magic.

Follow NBCBLK on Facebook and Twitter