This year, the Emmy Awards made a big show of how diverse they’ve become. Literally.
It started with the opener, a tongue-in-cheek musical tribute highlighting discussions about diversity and inclusion. SNL’s Kenan Thompson set up the number by saying that in addition to celebrating the award show’s 70th anniversary, “we’re also celebrating the fact that this year’s Emmy Awards has the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history.” And with that, he was joined by Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell, Sterling K. Brown, RuPaul, Andy Samberg, Ricky Martin and John Legend for a sarcastic number about having “solved” television’s diversity problem. (*Spoiler alert* we haven’t.)
It was a nod to the fact that this year, out of 106 actors nominated for either lead, supporting or guest roles, 38 were people of colour. This number is both record-breaking—representing a major step up from last year’s 27 non-white acting nominees—and outrageous at the same time. Yes, this is the most diverse Emmy Awards ever, but after an hour into the ceremony and 10 Emmys doled out, not a single person of colour had made it to the stage to accept an award. In total, out of 26 categories, only four (FOUR!) people of colour won an Emmy.
This year’s #Emmys is a good example of how you can make as many jokes and political statements as you want but until you get to the root of the problem and dismantle the inequality on and through which the system was literally built nothing is going to change.
— Kyla (@kylawhetham) September 18, 2018
This shouldn’t be surprising since, according to a UCLA study, 72% of actors for scripted shows debuting in the 2017-2018 television season are white. And the numbers aren’t much better for those behind the scenes. Researchers found that in the same season, 91% of the creators of new shows were white—and 84% of these creators were male. The study also notes that shows created by or starring people of colour are also often overlooked by the Emmys.
And yet, when Hayma Washington, chairman of the Television Academy—the organization behind the Emmys, which appears to have an all-white executive team—came out to address the crowd, he once again noted the diversity of this year’s show.
“Try to imagine being at those first Emmys in 1949. Think about those early days of television. Now look around you and think about who we are honouring tonight,” said Washington. “We are more diverse, more inclusive and more committed than ever to telling stories that represent all of us in 2018. Let’s give ourselves a hand.”
And to that, #OscarsSoWhite creator and activist April Reign had the perfect response:
Black man who is the Chairman of the TV Academy telling us to think about what the first #Emmys would’ve been like in 1949. When he wouldn’t have been allowed on stage, much less nominated. Then wants folks to give themselves a hand for their diversity. pic.twitter.com/MCkiO4Zwki
— April (@ReignOfApril) September 18, 2018
NPR’s TV critic Eric Deggans also pointed out just how out of touch Washington’s remarks were.
The #Emmy academy chairman `asking the room to applaud the diversity of the nominees and TV industry is everything the opening number was making fun of. Sigh.
— Eric Deggans at NPR (@Deggans) September 18, 2018
While ensuring a more diverse pool of nominees is definitely a step in the right direction, true inclusion requires recognizing and celebrating the work that POCs have done. Or at the very least, interrogating why—while the nominees are “the most diverse ever”—the 2018 Emmy winners were overwhelmingly white (shout out to Seven Seconds’s Regina King, Westworld’s Thandie Newton, Drag Race’s RuPaul and American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace‘s Darren Criss). True progress on television requires more than having POCs in the room and on the nominees list. Until then, let’s hold our applause.
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