When it came time to accept her award, ESSENCE “Black Women in Hollywood” honoree Kerry Washington hit an emotional chord by speaking of the struggles of Black women in Hollywood. But instead of focusing entirely on the negative, Washington chose to celebrate sisterhood and the need for Black actresses to stick together despite a very competitive environment with limited roles for women of color. “There’s room for all of us,” she told a room full of her contemporaries. Here’s a look at Washington’s touching call to action:
Last year, everything changed for me because I walked into this room and I was laughing when I was watching this clip. There’s that monologue in “Scandal” that I know many of y’all know — because I know how many of you did that monologue for [executive producer] Shonda [Rhimes]. I’ve had this conversation with so many of you. This business can be so competitive. And right before this luncheon last year it was announced that I had the profound blessing of the opportunity to work with Shonda on “Scandal.” I was so moved because when I got here I didn’t feel that there was any competition in the room. You guys ran up to me with hugs and said how hard you worked on the audition, but said that you were praying for me and and supporting me and believing in me. And we all knew how special of an opportunity it was and how special of an opportunity this is that Shonda has allowed us to see ourselves on the small screen; it hasn’t happened on network television since Diahann Carroll did “Julia.”
I just want you guys to know that when I left here, I left here with you in my heart, and you were with me every day on the set. And when you watch that show, any power that you see, because that character is much more powerful than I am, you helped me do that. You helped me be her. And I pray for the show’s success — not because I want the show to be a success, but because if it is, we all get to do more. And I am telling you, after spending a few months working for two Black women as the executive producers on this show, Julie Smith and Shonda Rhimes, it’s fun. So I tell you humbly, I want to work with you all, and for you all. I want us to be continuously inspired by this luncheon so that we can continue to go and create work. And I get so excited when I see so-and-so is producing because I think maybe I work for them.
There really is room for all of us…. There is a NEED for all of us. And there’s been a lot of talk — it’s not new, I feel like it comes up every once in a while — about stereotypes, and are we perpetuating stereotypes and what’s a positive image and what’s a negative image? For us to be working and doing good work is, unfortunately, a political act in this country. Because it is not funny that this is a country where we were originally designated to be three-fifths of a person. And it is not funny that this is a country where practices are very different, but theoretically, Black men were given the right to vote before White women, so we struggle as people of color, we struggle as women.
When we force the world to see us as fully realized, three-dimensional, complete human beings, we are doing a service. So it doesn’t matter whether we’re playing a secretary, or a Secretary of State. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing a whore, or a warrior, or a principal, or a priestess. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing somebody’s mother or somebody’s slave. It doesn’t matter. We are no more important than our grandmothers and we are no more important than our daughters. What’s important is that we all have a story and that we all deserve to see our stories. We each have to courageously say “yes” to the roles that speak to us and fill them with humanity so that we force the world to deal with us. And if we do that we force the world to deal with us and if we do that it doesn’t matter what our characters do, it matters who our characters are. And that’s what we do. We continue to play human beings, we continue to write human beings, we continue to produce human beings and we will transform the world and make each other pause and acknowledge our shared humanity through our work.
I just want you guys to know that I am carrying you in my heart every day at work — that we travel together. I just love and adore the love the support in this room. I’m so grateful for all of you who come before, for all of you who will continue to do amazing work. And I want to work with you, don’t forget that.
I just thank you.