Rhetorical Analysis of Viola Davis Acceptance

The Emmys acceptance speech pronounced by the American actress Viola Davis caused a tremendous public response. Davis is concerned about a matter that remains topical even six years after the speech – race inequality (Television Academy, 2015). As McDonald (2015) puts it, Daviss performance foremost targets her colleagues of color; it also reminds the audience that the talent does not depend on race, nationality, or gender. The current paper analyzes the speechs language style and explains why the chosen strategies made the argument more persuasive.

First of all, the type of this speech style could be considered as a frozen one. A frozen speech is commonly pronounced during official ceremonies such as, in the given case, Emmy Awards. The speech appears to be rehearsed, and the grammar structure of the sentences is complex. At the same time, the speech does not seem to be emotionless; instead, it is heartfelt and touching.

The speech of Viola Davis is one of value because implicitly, she argues that actresses of color as talented, beautiful, smart, and capable of performing leading roles as their white colleagues. Besides, the speech reveals the values, concerns, and worries of the author. More precisely, the Emmy Awards winner emphasizes the importance of such value as equality of people of different races. The fact that Davis is black makes her argument even more persuasive and heartfelt because the audience sees that she knows what she is talking about. Probably, if a white person pronounced the same speech, the listeners would get an impression that the speaker just abuses the burning topic. The speech is also a proposition of policy because it is evident that the critical goal of this performance is to attract attention to the problem of racism in the filmmaking industry. In spite of the fact that Viola Davis does not claim directly that film producers should employ women of color more frequently, it is impossible not to notice this idea.

One of the most striking details about the speech is that it is full of prominent black actresses names. This method makes the audience understand that Viola Davis is not the single actress who faces the issue of the glass ceiling and deprived of career opportunities due to prejudices based on race and the outdated standards of beauty. Even though the speech is not abundant with complex terminology or bright epithets, it is remarkable and honest. To a large extent, the listeners believe Daviss speech because the vocabulary is rather casual. More precisely, she uses abbreviations such as “heres” and such words as “simply,” “so,” “sexy” (Television Academy, 2015). This unofficial and colloquial vocabulary makes the speech sound more mundane and, alongside this, frank and sincere.

To conclude, the critical message of Daviss speech is that traditionally the most desirable roles were granted to the white actors and actresses. In other words, for the filmmakers, black women were invisible for many decades (McDonald, 2015). Viola Davis’s triumph is a sign that it is high time to break the barriers faced by women of color and erase this very line, mentioned in the speech, between black and white women (Television Academy, 2015). The usage of personal experience as a background for the performance and referring to numerous talented people of color contribute to the persuasiveness of the speech.


Television Academy (2015). Viola Davis gives powerful speech about diversity and opportunity | Emmys 2015. [Video]. YouTube.

McDonald, S. N. (2015). ‘You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there’: Viola Davis on her historic Emmys win. The Washington Post. Web.

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