By most accounts, Viola Davis’ speech at the Emmys was an instant classic. She directly addressed the lack of diversity on television, saying, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
Sunday night, "General Hospital" actress Nancy Lee Grahn, who is white, took to Twitter and said that the Emmys were not a “venue [for] racial opportunity” and that Viola Davis “has never been discriminated against.”
FULL COVERAGE: Emmys 2015
To some observers, Grahn's rolling Twitter screed was an example of "white feminism."
According to Cate Young, author of feminist pop culture blog BattyMamzelle, "white feminism" is feminism that is aware of sexism but fails to "consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality."
But as Young and others have explained it, “white feminism” is not necessarily feminism by white people. Instead, it is feminism for whites — that is, it benefits only whites. The term is a way to caution feminists who might ignore the lives and experiences of women of color.
In March, Deadline.com's TV editor was hammered by critics after presenting the argument that the trend of more diversity on television in recent years was evidence that "the pendulum might have swung a bit too far.” Quoting from anonymous “industry insiders,” she suggested that “ethnic talent” was pushing out qualified white actors.
And on that front, there is no “ethnic” overswing of a pendulum. According to a report published by the Writers Guild of America, the numbers of both female and minority writers actually declined this year. Only 13.7% of television show staff writers are minorities — and that figure includes men.
Many took this as a metaphor for the entertainment industry. It was as if they were being told, yet again, “There is only so much room for people like you here.” It’s a message that has been also spoken literally — one black woman filmmaker was told that the market could only support two “black films,” even if they were completely different genres.
All too often, the roles aren’t there.
But thanks to Davis’ speech, and the misinformed backlash of some on Twitter, the issue of the lack of diversity in media is back in the spotlight. As Davis herself said, the discussion will not end here.
Follow me @dexdigi for more on the intersection of culture and the Internet.