“This moment is so much bigger than me,” were the first words spoken by Halle Berry after she won the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role for Monster’s Ball in 2002. “It’s for the women that stand beside me. Jada Pinkett. Angela Bassett. Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless women of color that now have a chance because this door, tonight, has been opened.”
Berry made history as the first, and as of today, last black woman to win an Oscar a leading role, and last night, thirteen years after Berry’s win, at The 67th Emmy awards, Viola Davis became the first woman of color to win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama.
And their speeches are remarkably similar.
Viola Davis began her speech with a quote from Harriet Tubman, a trailblazer for the black community:
“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.”
Davis reminds us that this was said in the 1800’s—and it’s still relevant in 2015.
Like Berry, Davis gave a shout-out to “the people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.” She thanked, “the Taraji P. Henson’s, the Kerry Washington’s, the Halle Berry’s, the Nicole Beharie’s, the Meagan Good’s, and to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line.”
Both women, trailblazers in their medium, delivered similar speeches, thanking their peers.
So what’s changed in thirteen years?
It’s not a coincidence that both women made a point to thank their peers. It shows that this isn’t a one-woman fight and it never was. It’s a group of women, working together, to challenge social norms, and redefine what it means to be a woman in the limelight.
This year, Davis redefined the sexualization of black women in “How to Get Away with Murder,” by shedding her makeup and wig, exposing the “secret” life of a black woman. This opportunity was made possible by Shonda Rhimes because, as Davis said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You can’t win an Emmy for a role that are simply not there.”
So what has changed since Berry’s 2002 win? Opportunity.