An Ecosystem of Representation

An Ecosystem of Representation

It seems like everyone is talking about last night’s Emmy awards, and not just about what the stars wore or the end of Modern Family‘s streak. In fact, most people are talking about Viola Davis, as the first African American actress to ever win best actress in a drama series. Her moving speech (above) calls attention to the continuing inequality and lack of opportunity for women of color in Hollywood.

Davis was one of three black women to win an Emmy last night, and Sonia Saraiya, at Salon, believes this is a sign that black women will continue to be more supported on television. She also references the new Apple Music commercial, starring Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henderson, and Mary J. Blige, claiming that this commercial, along with the Emmys, represents a new ecosystem of representation, one where “it isn’t shocking or surprising or even noteworthy to see three women of color having a good time while another woman of color directs from behind the scenes.”

While any steps towards more representation for women of color in television is a plus, I hesitate to call this a new ecosystem of representation. The fact that it is only now, in 2015, that a black woman has won best actress in a drama, and that the number of women of color nominees for best and supporting actress can be counted on two hands, suggests that we have perhaps not reached this new, supportive, diverse television environment.  The most obvious evidence of this is Davis’s speech-crying out for more opportunities, for more representation. Or maybe it’s Kerry Washington crying in the front row, and the many journalists who are writing about Davis’s win. Davis’s win is shocking, and amazing, but it shouldn’t be. Women of color (as well as lesbians, bi, and queer women, women with disabilities, trans women, and many others) should be all over TV, and they aren’t yet. We haven’t even come close to reaching a supportive and inclusive television environment. This is what Davis wants us to remember. This is what needs to change.

Image from ABC.