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Diversity at the Emmys: Have We Solved It?

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The 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards had the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history. To celebrate, the program started with a song entitled “We Solved It,” touting how the Emmys had solved the lack of diversity in Hollywood. While the song was satirical, the effects were not. Even though the performers of the song represented marginalized communities the song did little to promote hidden diversity.

Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson opened the show with the musical number with help from Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Sterling K. Brown, John Legend, Ricky Martin, Andy Samberg, and RuPaul.

Sterling K. Brown, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Kate McKinnon Kenan Thompson RuPAul, 2018 Emmys
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) Sterling K. Brown, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Kate McKinnon Kenan Thompson and RuPAul onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
Among the performers, white women and African American males were the primary racial groups showcased. No women of color were represented nor were the many other minorities of Hollywood. The two multiethnic and multiracial celebrities on stage, Ricky Martin and RuPaul, made only brief appearances.

Viewers caught a glimpse of Martin’s cultural background when he entered the stage proclaiming “This song is way too white” before bringing his Puerto Rican and Spanish flare to the group.

Ricky Martin, Sterling K. Brown, Kate McKinnon, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell and Kenan Thompson, 2018 Emmys
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) Ricky Martin, Sterling K. Brown, Kate McKinnon, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell and Kenan Thompson onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

RuPaul, a member of the LGBTQ community, simply announced a phone call to Thompson without audiences realizing his multicultural background of African, French, American, and Swiss-German.

A nod was also given to Asians as McKinnon and Thompson pointed out Sandra Oh’s historic nomination as the first Asian woman to be nominated for a lead actress award.  

Is “We Solved It” a meta-performance? Meaning, is it a performance aware of itself and what possible implications could arise? Were the writers, producers, actors, and dancers knowledgeable on the point they were trying to get across to the mass audience? Some can argue yes.

“We Solved It” was a spectacle that the media turned into one of the most covered stories of the Emmys. The satirical performance definitely caught glimpse of many entertainment outlets, such as GLAMOR, whose author Christopher Rosa stated “While the nominations this year show we’re heading in a better direction, Hollywood is still by and large dominated by white men, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s important not to lose sight of that.” Rosa talks about how it was a good idea from the cast of Saturday Night Live to call out Hollywood for thinking that all their issues have been solved. Rosa reminds us that even though diversity at the Emmys has been larger than ever before, we still have a long way to go before anything is truly solved.

Another interesting perspective in the media was the Vox article that talks about diversity as a big problem in Hollywood. “Still, while the Emmys may not have solved the problem of representation and diversity onscreen, the show addressed the issue in the most Hollywood way possible: with a cheesy song-and-dance routine and a lot of hand-waving,” Aja Romano stated. Romano’s idea of this is definitely something to ponder. Would the message of the performance be taken as well as it was if it wasn’t satirical or made in the most Hollywood manner possible? The possibility is that it would have been met with much more widespread criticism. Best that we can hope for is that the performance has opened the eyes of Hollywood’s elites and more diversity is to come of this in the future.

Parodies in many instances are meant to be a scathing examination of a problem.

According to Dr. Tori Arthur, a professor of Journalism and Media Communication at Colorado State University, “Parodies in many instances are meant to be a scathing examination of a problem,” and the use of satire aides in accepting “the truth [the writers] want the audience to digest”. Dr. Arthur also says that parodies such as this one are “ear-worms,” meaning “they get into our heads, they get into our ears and they stay there.” Controversial performances like these are conversation-starters and have more of an opportunity to go viral.

And this was the case in many instances, this five-minute video is easily shareable, and clips have been seen on multiple platforms by various people. But did the parody accomplish its goal? Depending on what was the main idea behind this performance, it can easily be seen as a hit-or-miss. If the goal was to be a conversation starter, then it was effective. If the goal was to include more diversity into the Emmys, then perhaps further research should have been done.

I think it was supposed to be a critique, but I’m not confident that any of those people on stage know what the next step is beyond diversity.

Carl Izumi is the Program Coordinator for Men’s Programming and Violence Prevention at Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center. As a part of the Student Diversity Programs and Services, Izumi offers an analysis of the song.

I think it was supposed to be a critique,” Izumi said,  “but I’m not confident that any of those people on stage know what the next step is beyond diversity.”

Izumi offers a perspective of how this song is self-aware but fails to elucidate what the next step is.

“I think the selection of that core group just black men and white women is something that I would love to interrogate,” Izumi said, “what’s the message behind the scenes?”

Izumi brings up a good point at who was represented and who was not represented. The fact that only white women and only black men were included in the song brings up questions around who was represented and what that says about the Emmy’s definition of diversity.

“I think it also minimizes the harm that white women can do to people of color,” Izumi said “and what black men can do to women.”

Izumi also talks about why Andy Samberg was included in the song.

“The fact that they included [Andy Samburg] over other identities is weird to me,” Izumi said, “it reinforces that white men should be fearful of diversity conversations when it is absolutely their place to come and learn and think about it.”

Izumi offers a helpful analysis of the song and encourages more discussion on what the definition of diversity is when it comes to entertainment.

Although the 70th annual Emmy’s did feature a record amount of diversity in its nominees, the winners of the 2018 Emmy awards did not match up to the expectations set by the show’s opening number, which humorously pointed to the fact that this year’s nominees were more diverse than ever. While it is a step in the right direction to have recognition in the form of nomination for these diverse artists, they did not “solve it” quite yet. While there were some important steps forward at this year’s Emmys, for example, RuPaul’s Drag Race broke new ground for the LGBTQIA+ community when it was awarded the Emmy for best Reality-Competition Program, there is much work needed to be done, for example, many viewers and even host Michael Che commented on the lack of recognition for the comedy series Atlanta. The opening number, while lacking in diversity in itself, does call the issue of diversity to attention through its use of satire. While there is much work to be done, we have come closer than ever to solving it.

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1 comment

  1. I’m actually very impressed by this article. While it might be a little long, I really like how we edited it to be more readable. I think it’s great that there was a video to watch in it, there were plenty of quality images in the story to spice it up and there are some really good block quotes that highlighted good information for the audience. I think that some of this could have been trimmed down some more (particularly the final paragraph), but other than that, I really like it.

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