Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 September 2020

Not-so-white Emmys: is the award ceremony making real progress on diversity?

'I'm sure the last thing the Television Academy wanted was to have an 'Emmys so white' controversy,' says TV critic Eric Deggans

Sandra Oh was nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for 'Killing Eve'. AP 
Sandra Oh was nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for 'Killing Eve'. AP 

From Insecure's 20-something women to the Muslim-American star of Ramy, Sunday's Emmy line-up is an unprecedented showcase for people of colour.

But the television industry needs to take concrete action on pledges to nurture non-white writers and directors to ensure that the 2020 awards ceremony is not just a blip triggered by a summer of protests over systemic racism in the United States, observers say.

"I'm sure the last thing the Television Academy wanted was to have an 'Emmys so white' controversy in the middle of all that," said Eric Deggans, TV critic for National Public Radio. "So I'm not surprised they paid special attention to the work of Black performers," said Deggans, author of the 2012 book Race Baiter.

Record Emmy nominations for people of colour included nods for Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere and American Son), Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Billy Porter (Pose), Regina King (Watchmen), Issa Rae (Insecure) and Sterling K Brown (This is Us and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel).

Watchmen, the superhero alternative reality drama infused with racial themes, led nominations with 26 nods.

Nominations open doors for other blacks, Asians and Latinos and shape perceptions beyond the world of entertainment, said Rashad Robinson, president of social justice organisation Colour of Change.

"What these awards represent is the industry's way of creating a system of letting people in, of creating access to jobs and opportunities," Robinson said. "It dictates the stories we get to see in the world about who we are, and that has deep implications on the unwritten rules about how we are treated in hospitals, by judges and at schools."

The Emmy nominees came from shows that were made before America began a painful cultural reckoning over racism this summer.

More are on their way, including documentary Driving While Black, Woke about a Black cartoonist who has an encounter with police, abolitionist drama The Good Lord Bird, and Enslaved about the history of the slave trade.

It's not enough to care. It's not enough to be aware. We have to have people willing to act and to make real changes

Rashad Robinson, Colour of Change president

Robinson said that exciting as it is to see Black artists and stories break through, more structural changes such as inclusion riders, diversity in writers rooms and fully rounded characters are needed to ensure lasting change.

"It's not enough to care. It's not enough to be aware," he said. "We have to have people willing to act and to make real changes."

Deggans noted that Latinx talent is still largely overlooked at the Emmys, even though Latinos form America's second largest ethnic group after whites.

"It's regrettable that so much of the recognition fell on Black performers and there wasn't a little bit more in regard to Latinx people especially," said Deggans, noting that shows like Gentefied, Vida and One Day at a Time were largely overlooked.

"The cause of Latinx representation in Hollywood is a little further back – where Black people were, say, 10 years ago," Deggans added.

The Emmy Awards will be handed out on Sunday (Monday morning in the UAE) at a virtual ceremony televised on ABC.

Updated: September 14, 2020 07:29 PM

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