Trinity Goppy | Staff Writer
Debbie Allen, after more than 50 years in the entertainment industry, became the first Black woman to receive the Governor’s Award at the Emmys, which were broadcast by CBS on Sept. 19.
“Let this moment resonate with women across the world and across this country, from Texas to Afghanistan,” she said during her acceptance speech. “It’s time for you to claim your power. Claim your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”
Throughout Allen’s extensive career, she has broken down barriers for women.
At the start of her career, Allen faced a common obstacle for many Black ballerinas. She was rejected by the North Carolina School of the Arts because her body structure did not fit the preferred image of a ballerina, according to The New York Times. Yet she persevered and made her debut on Broadway, which opened opportunities that would jump-start her career as an actress.
Allen’s influence has made her a force to be reckoned with as she has won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Choreography and an Emmy Award for Best Actress. With her relationships in the industry, Allen dabbled in a singing career and released two solo albums.
She also tried her hand at acting with her most known role as Lydia on the hit television show Fame. The show allowed Allen to express her artistic gifts as a choreographer, actress and director.
As Allen’s talents gained recognition, she was inspired to do more behind the scenes, producing one of the fundamental cultural forces of Black television, A Different World. The show tackled several controversial topics in the ’90s. Black youth who watched the show often cite it as a defining reason they decided to attend an HBCU, according to the Netflix special Strong Black Lead.
On top of her work, Allen has made it her mission to give back to her community by mentoring dancers who strive to achieve their dreams. In 2001, Allen started The Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), a nonprofit organization that focuses on teaching dance and theater training, regardless of financial status. The academy has been open for more than 19 years and has served as a stepping-stone for young dancers.
Misty Copeland, the first Black female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, thanked Allen for her contributions.
“Debbie has been like a second mom to me by bringing me into the Black ballerina community and I am incredibly thankful for that,” Copeland said in an interview at the University of Southern California.
Even after her extended time in the entertainment industry, Allen is continuing to create opportunities for others. Recently, she had auditions for her popular musical, Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, which modernizes the original musical, The Nutcracker.
The musical recently debuted on Netflix, and because of popular demand, Allen is relaunching the musical this December on Broadway.