Diversity at the Emmys … or Lack Thereof?

It looks like the Emmy Awards are slowly inching their way toward being more diverse.

Emmy Award
Emmy Award (Photo by De’von wellesley on Unsplash)

As The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg noted in a column this week:

One area in which the TV Academy appears to have done a fairly good job, at least relative to many other awards-dispensing groups, is recognizing diverse productions and people. Despite the fact that many of the year’s highest-profile shows were very white — see ‘Succession,’ ‘The White Lotus,’ ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘The Crown,’ Amazon Prime’s comedy ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ and FX’s limited/anthology series ‘Fleishman Is in Trouble,’ among others — a considerable number of performers of color still received noms.

Among them, Feinberg noted the following, many of which still came from “a handful” or programs, including:

  • HBO’s “The Last of Us” had nominations for Pedro Pascal, Storm Reid, Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Montreal Woodard;
  • ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” saw Taraji P. Henson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Quinta Brunson, Janelle James and Tyler James Williams get nods;
  • Netflix’s “Beef” had nominations for Ali Wong, Joseph Lee, Steven Yeun and Young Mazino;
  • Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” — Sarah Niles and Sam Richardson.

Even actors in smaller shows got Emmy consideration, including, according to Feinberg:

Ayo Edibiri for FX’s ‘The Bear,’ Jenna Ortega for Netflix’s ‘Wednesday,’ Jessica Williams for ‘Shrinking,’ Niecy Nash-Betts for Netflix’s limited/anthology series ‘Dahmer’ and Dominique Fishback for Amazon Prime’s limited/anthology series ‘Swarm.’ Performers of Middle Eastern descent had a strong showing — see ‘Succession’s’ Hiam Abbass and Arian Moayed and ‘Chippendales’’ Nanjiani.

Additionally, Freiberg notes that Bella Ramsey, who identifies as nonbinary, got a lead acting nomination for their role in “The Last of Us.”

Let’s compare that to a previous awards show, say the 2019 Emmys and the lack of inclusivity then.

Fox’s broadcast of the 71st Annual Emmy Awards got a lot of backlash in the media following its airing on September 22, 2019. Not only was it the least viewed broadcasting of the Emmys in its history (views dropped about 30 percent versus 2018’s broadcast), diversity among the nominees and award winners dropped even more dramatically compared to 2018’s record holding statistics.

The award show started off slow; RuPaul Charles was the first person of color to kick off the inclusive wins of the 2019 Emmys, and only a few followed after him. RuPaul picked up his second consecutive win this year, and used his platform to encourage viewers to register and vote for love, speaking out for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community that has been under a lot of pressure and criticism recently.

Garry Shandling rehearsing the 45th Emmy Awards 9/19/93 (photo by Alan Light)
Garry Shandling rehearsing the 45th Emmy Awards 9/19/93 (photo by Alan Light)

“Thanks to the academy for voting for us, and speaking of voting and love: go and register to vote! Go to vote.gov! Vote! Register!”

RuPaul in 2019

Though RuPaul’s winning streak continued, wins for people of color did not. That year, people of color only took home three wins – RuPaul Charles’ Reality Emmy Win, Jharrel Jerom for “When They See Us” and Billy Porter for “Pose.” This comes after 2018 where seven of the Emmys major acting categories were won by people of color, eight if you count RuPaul Charles’ hosting win from that year.

The lack of diversity in 2019 was disappointing, but expected. Once the nominees were announced, it was clear that there wasn’t enough representation for LGBTQ or people of color. That night’s top honors saw “Game of Thrones” winning Outstanding Drama, “Fleabag” winning Outstanding Comedy and “Chernobyl” winning Best Limited Series — all shows with casts and creative teams that were overwhelmingly white. 

Victories should be noted though, Billy Porter made history by being the first openly gay black man to win the Emmy for lead actor in “Pose.” Jharrel Jerrome, a Third Culture Kid (TCK), made history by being the first Afro-Latino and the first Dominican to win an acting Emmy for lead actor in the limited series “When They See Us.” Cherry Jones, Ben Winshaw and Jane Lynch were all award winners that represented the LBGTQ community too.

The few wins for these diverse communities shouldn’t be underplayed or disregarded — history was made and if anything more awareness to this issue was sparked. It was hard to come back after witnessing 2018’s success in these areas, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that the Emmys missed the mark when it came to diversity and inclusion that year.


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