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Shailene Woodley’s comment at the Emmys spans beyond mere tone deafness

ByJuliet Tolley

Sep 28, 2017

Last Sunday, our eyes feasted upon a splendid sight on our television screens: a parade of celebrities, dressed to their finest, pirouetting onto the red carpet at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. The California sun radiated on the highlighted cheeks of Hollywood’s elite for television’s biggest event, the Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, a night dedicated to the celebration and honour of the booming medium.

Among those walking the red carpet was Shailene Woodley, nominated that evening for her performance as a young mother Jane Chapman in HBO’s revered series Big Little Lies. Lightheartedly, an E! News reporter asked Woodley what television she watches. To the shock of her interviewer, she abruptly replied “all my friends who watch TV, I always ask them when they have time to. When do people have time to? I’m a reader, so I always read a book.”

Immediately her comment conjured a mob of negative Twitter responses. They claimed that her words were smug and unbearably tone deaf, shaming not only those who watch television, but the entire medium of television itself. While this tasteless aside was wretchedly obnoxious, it’s problematic significance bears a much heavier weight.

This year’s Emmys show was a particularly significant evening for people of colour and all women in prospective categories. When creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, Issa Rae, was asked who she was rooting to win an award that evening, she cheerily and candidly shared a simple response: “I’m rooting for everyone black.”

This year was a record-breaking year for diverse representation in the nominee spots as well as for winners. Donald Glover, star and creator of FX’s Atlanta walked away with a golden statue for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, a show created, according to Glover, with the intention of “sharing the black experience with the world”.

Lena Waithe, a queer-identified black woman won for her writing about her experience coming out to her parents on the collaborative show with Aziz Ansari, Master of None. Just as Rae had hoped, the Emmys became an incredible evening for black people, and was equally so for female artists and other people of colour.

For Woodley to brush off the cultural importance of television displays more than just her outstanding ignorance. It shows her lack of appreciation for the medium which has provided an amazing platform for disempowered groups of people, otherwise shunned away from producers or executives.

In a recent interview with Elle magazine, Woodley openly prophesies the imperative importance of feminism in Hollywood. However, when standing in the doorway of an event which represents a huge step for intersectional feminism, she insulted and disregarded the very medium that got her standing there, surrounded by feminist icons and people of colour feeling profoundly appreciative for television.

What Hollywood needs is not more red carpet microphones facing white feminists who refuse to acknowledge intersectionality, but instead, an even bigger and better stage for artists of colour to share their stories.

Image: Gage Skidmore @ Flickr

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