Viola Davis’s Emmy Win And Speech Was The Blackest Thing That Ever Happened This Week
How to Get Away with Murder is not a great show. It’s not a bad one, but the way it shifts from 40 minutes of “Eh, let me check and see what’s on the Travel Network tonight” to 20 seconds of “WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED???” every episode is so conspicuous that you consciously become aware how manipulative it is. Now, being manipulative isn’t a bad thing. All great shows do it to some extent, and we (the audience) expect and desire it. But with HTGAWM, the manipulations aren’t just foreshadowed or alluded to. They’re screamed at you. “OF COURSE IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR THAT GUY TO BE A MURDERER. BUT WE’RE MANIPULATING YOU RIGHT NOW, SO DEAL WITH IT.”
The show remains compelling, however, because Viola Davis’s Annalise Keating is unlike any character who’s ever existed on television. She frequently vacillates between scary and scared and laconic and lascivious and devout and devious and motherly and Lady MacBeth in the same episode. Sometimes in the same scene. There is no archetype for someone like her. Perhaps there will be, eventually, but it will be based on her. She is a wonder.
And she’s Black. But not the type of Black we’re conditioned to seeing and expecting on television. Especially not in this type of role. Let me put it this way: I’ve seen a lead character have her hair tended to by her mother. But I’ve never seen that happen when the lead character had the type of hair that made the same sound I heard as a kid when my mom was combing my sister’s hair.
That there was even a question about whether she’d receive the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama is an indictment on Hollywood’s relationship with race. Black women, specifically. This was a surprise. But it shouldn’t have been. And it wouldn’t have been if this was Meryl Streep or even Robin Wright in this type of role. But although Davis put her whole entire foot into this character, the still very real reality of Black people having to surpass the standard just to receive acknowledgement for meeting that standard still exists. For Davis — or any other Black woman — to win, it couldn’t just be a great role amongst other great roles. It had to be some shit no one has seen before. And her speech, where she got up in front of all those White people and led with a gotdamn Harriet Tubman quote (!!!), alluded to that.
Also, anyone still doubting the Blackness bonafides of Davis’s win just needs to remember the following metric: Were any prominent White Tears shed?
If the answer is yes — and, after reading Nancy Lee Grahn’s tweets, the answer is a resounding yes — then it was appropriately Black.