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71st Emmy Awards Shine a Spotlight on Hidden Diversity

RuPaul and the RuPaul's Drag Race Team accept the Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.

The 2019 Emmy Awards sparked many conversations about diversity, representation, and what it means to be an ally. One of the night’s winners took the opportunity to speak about the importance of voting in the United States’ current socio-political climate. 

RuPaul, whose hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program, made a point of using his acceptance speech to talk about diversity on television and the importance of voter registration.

“We are so proud of this show and… all of the gorgeous kids who come on and show how fabulous they are,” RuPaul said. “…and thanks to the [Television] Academy for voting for us… and speaking of voting… go and register to vote… and [then] vote.”

This call to action impacts not only citizens of the United States, but those that have immigrated to and now reside in the country. By encouraging citizens to vote, more perspectives are represented in American society and government. For those with hidden diversity, this is great news because more voters can mean better representation.

For United States residents that are not citizens, a larger population of active voters could benefit their lives by creating a more diverse public opinion and opening a dialogue about legislation. When more people vote, more voices and perspectives have the chance to be heard in the mainstream. For undocumented residents, an increase in voters could mean a more powerful voice for the people, which could influence the current administration’s strict immigration policies. For documented immigrants and ex-patriates that choose not to become natural citizens, it means that more diverse interests are represented in American society. 

Voting in elections in the United States allows those with American citizenship to express their opinions and encourages a diversity of ideas across the country. For United States citizens with hidden diversity, it can be crucial to get their stories and perspectives heard in the mainstream. The experience shared by those with hidden diversity is unique, and the voices of those with that common experience can often be drowned out by the majority without it. RuPaul’s call for civic engagement demands more than just encouraging eligible voters, it asks those in positions of power and privilege to advocate for their communities and become allies to those that cannot vote.

In the increasingly globalized world of 21st century television, it has never been more important to connect with your audience through engaging content and diverse representation. Television is no longer seen as a static entity outside the realm of reality but rather a force that can shape public perception. In the words of chairman and CEO Frank Scherma at the 71st Emmy Awards, “Television isn’t just about entertainment anymore, it is a shortcut to understanding each other a little better.” Television is multidimensional and diverse in its application and as such, it should be judged and presented with and by the same rules. The Television Academy’s mission statement claims that it seeks “to promote creativity, diversity, innovation and excellence through recognition, education and leadership in the advancement of the telecommunications arts and sciences” but looking to the 71st primetime Emmy awards it seemed more like diversity was touted around rather than focused on as an aspect of growth and progressivity in the world of award shows. Throughout the show, interviewers on the red carpet, presenters, and even those who won gave speeches concerning Eurocentric and western ideals and values. While it is important to provide a platform where award winners can talk about important issues such as voting rights for immigrants and expatriates, it is just as important to stand by your mission statement and educate your global audience on the benefits of that inclusion. 

The 71st Emmy awards promoted diversity by awarding people such as RuPaul and Jharrel Jerome without alluding to the importance of that representation and what it would specifically mean going forward into television’s future. It’s a missed opportunity that the Television Academy doesn’t use their Emmys as a platform to explain the importance and application of their mission statement. Is the future of television going to be as vague as the 71st Emmys was? Can the Television Academy’s vision of what is considered ‘canonical’ be accepted based on its popularity alone? It’s important to look at the institutions that claim to have the power to choose what the future looks like, especially when they talk about that future in such Eurocentric ways.

Jharrel Jerome received the award for outstanding leading actor in a limited series for his acting role in “When They See us.” This is an important step not only for Jerome but for Afro-Latinos, Latinos, Dominicans, Blacks and the entire minority community because it shows that the media in the United States is taking a step forward to acknowledging minorities all around the world and their accomplishments. This was not only Jerome’s first Emmy but he was also the youngest and the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy. In a backstage press conference, Jerome was asked what it was like to be the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy, Jerome said,

“It’s an honor its a blessing, and I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos, it’s about time we are here.”

In his winning speech he said, “I feel like I should be in the Bronx right now, chillin’, waiting for my mom’s cooking.” Jerome identifies as Dominican American since his mother is from the Dominican Republic. Jerome grew up as a CCK (Cross Cultural Kid) since he grew up with his mother’s Dominican background while growing up in the Bronx, New York. What makes Jerome a CCK is that he is a minority in America that had to switch between his mother’s culture and American culture. In his interview with Hot 97 Jerome said he started getting into rapping, he then decided he wanted to combine both and pursue acting in the 8th grade and went on to join Riverdale Children’s theater. He then graduated from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts where he did more musical theater. He then got accepted into Ithaca College to continue pursuing his acting career.

LGBTQ+ rights vary depending on the country or jurisdiction. There are 70 countries where same sex sexual activity is a crime including 6 that imopse the death penalty and 26 that will sentence violaters to prision. In the United States, same sex marriage is legal, but there are still some fights and discussions that need to be had in order to end all discrimination regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Activists have been taking their stand and recently some celebrities have used their appearances on the 71st annual Emmy Award show to bring attention to this fight. The main goal was to bring into light the Title VII Supreme Court case that could impact LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace. The case will be held on October 8th.

On the red carpet, Laverne Cox, LGBTQ+ advocate and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Emmy nominee for her work in Orange is The New Black first brought this up, saying “it has implications for the LGBTQ community, but it has implications for women and anyone who doesn’t conform to someone else’s idea of like how you should be a man or a woman or both or neither.” She showed up to the carpet holding a rainbow clutch with ‘Oct 8. Title VII Supreme Court’ on it. She also brought with her Chase Strangio, one of the attorneys working on the case to speak more about the implications. “The administration is asking Supreme Court to make it legal to fire workers just because they’re LGBTQ”

Patricia Arquette won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her performance in The Act, a show about an overprotective mother with an ill daughter trying to get out of their toxic relationship. In her acceptance speech, Patricia talks aout her late sister, Alexis Arquette (a transgender actress known for her roles in Pulp Fiction and Bride of Chucky). Her speech also included the pressing topic of discrimination towards the transgender community. She stated that she would still be in mourning, “until we change the world so that trans people are not persecuted and give them jobs, they’re human beings.” She ended her speech by waving her clutch with the same ‘Oct 8. Title VII supreme court’ phrase on it.

After the show in an interview hosted by the Hollywood Reporter, Patricia talks more on this topic saying “trans women of color live on the lowest amount of any group of people in America under $10,000 a year, in deep poverty.”

The Emmy Awards did not only do a good job at awarding diversity such as Billy Porter for his role in Pose but allowed award winners to give voice to what is important such as Patricia Arquette speaking about LGBT+ rights, and RuPaul about voting.

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