And the award goes to Hattie. Halle. Whoopi. Mo’Nique. Octavia. Lupita. Isabel. Viola. Uzo. Taraji. The meaning attached to this list of names is remarkable for many reasons. I look forward to the day that my #dramadiva Olivia is added to it. But on the heels of the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards around the corner, and the Emmy’s seemingly a distant past, I am reminded that there are rules for winning on the big screen. So, I can not celebrate with Taraji. And here’s why.
Olivia is my oldest daughter. She is everything anyone could ever hope for in a daughter: smart, hard-working, compassionate, driven, giving and obedient. At 10 years old she even started her own girls’ conference and a non-profit. Her main goal in life is to become a famous Hollywood actress with her own television show.
I’m Too Discouraged to Celebrate With Taraji
When I think about her dreams in comparison to that list, I get discouraged. Most of those women amassed enormous bodies of work before being considered for the coveted top nods. When I think about her seeing the work for which they earned their stripes, I cringe. Not only at the content, but the inevitable questions she’ll have. I don’t know how to inspire her based on the unseen aspects of making it on that list. And that’s why it’s hard for me to celebrate with Taraji.
Hattie McDaniel won the first Oscar awarded to a person of color for portraying Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. It took 51 years for the next African American female win; Whoopi Goldberg for her role in “Ghost” in 1990.
The only Oscar won by an African-American female in a leading role was claimed by Halle Berry in 2001 for her role in “Monster’s Ball.” She portrayed the poor, Southern wife of a convicted murderer who falls for and is “rescued” by the racist man who executed her husband. It is also notable that in this role she goes topless.
To Celebrate With Taraji I have To Settle
So, the examples of “extraordinary performances” by women of color I have to share with my star-gazed tween actress are a Mammy, a murderer’s wife, a shyster, a mother who molests her daughter, the help, a slave, a manipulative and sexually indiscriminate power abuser, a prisoner and Cookie. Do you see my dilemma?
It seems that the only roles considered noteworthy and award-winning played by women of color are ones I’d rather her not see. Taraji wins for Empire and not Benjamin Button? Phylicia Rashad never wins for The Cosby Show?
As a mom, I find it difficult to celebrate what society defines to be success for female actresses of color when it seems stereotypically negative and only highlights the history that we as people of color in America are trying to overcome. How can I inspire her to greatness with roles I don’t even want her to see?
I was ecstatic when Viola Davis received a prime-time Emmy in 2015. After all, she is a Julliard Graduate and someday the #dramadiva may want to study there. I was torn, however at the thought of sharing her inspiring speech with my aspiring actress. How do I explain that there are fewer opportunities for her simply because of her skin color, hair texture, and ancestry?
I Await the Day I Can Celebrate With Taraji
So I struggle to celebrate with Taraji. It is a challenge to use Viola’s speech as inspiration for her. I find it difficult to share Halle’s history-making accomplishment with my future leading lady for fear that it may break her sweet spirit. As a mom, I remain emotionally torn.
However, I will celebrate the hope in Olivia’s eyes every time she sees an African-American actress on television or on stage. I will celebrate the optimism she maintains in spite of the limited number of opportunities she receives compared to her lighter skinned peers. We will celebrate the success she has in the role of her real life and not just the characters she gets to play. I will celebrate all this because I am left with little else.