After #OscarsSoWhite, when every single one of the 20 Oscar acting nominations were given to white thespians, the Emmy nominations continue to reveal far more diversity in the television industry.
Unlike the movie business, more television shows are aimed at more diverse audiences from the start, which gives some 20,000 Emmy voters a wealth of options. The television industry casts a wider net, aiming shows at every audience segment, especially women, who are consistently underserved by the Hollywood studios, despite their strong box office stats. And television series can take more chances on giving shows time to find their core audience.
The diversity of the Emmy acting nominees held steady with 2016. Among this year’s 75 nominees in 12 major long-form acting categories (not including guest or short form), 16 nominees, or 21 percent, were people of color. Eleven acting categories boasted at least one nominee of color, while only one (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie) had none: notably, Oprah Winfrey was snubbed for nominated TV movie “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
The dominant shows were comedy series “Atlanta” (FX), “black-ish”(ABC) and “Master of None” (Netflix) whose leads, Donald Glover, Anthony Anderson and Aziz Ansari, will compete against each other. Emmy winner Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”) was the lone woman of color in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category.
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Popular drama nominee “This Is Us” (NBC) dug into racial issues this year, landing Emmy acting nods for last year’s “People v. O.J. Simpson” Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones.
Limited series nominee “The Night Of” (HBO) scored Lead Actor nods for Riz Ahmed, as imprisoned New Yorker Nasir “Naz” Khan. (Ahmed was also nominated for Guest Actor following his appearance on “Girls.”) On the other hand, this year “American Crime” went unrecognized for Outstanding Limited Series, and had to settle for acting nods, including Supporting Actress Regina King.
All in all, a good showing. Like last year, RuPaul Charles (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) penetrated the white enclave of Variety Hosts, scoring a total of 8 nominations including Outstanding Reality Competition. The Variety Talk Show category added Samantha Bee’s political gabfest “Full Frontal”; Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart replacement Trevor Noah was again ignored. But there’s still room for improvement. Non-binary newcomer Asia Kate Dillon (Showtime’s “Billions”) did not land a supporting actor nod; nor did popular multi-hyphenate Issa Rae of “Insecure” (HBO).
Like last year, this year’s Emmy contenders put strong women front and center, matching wits and strength with their male co-stars. With ineligible HBO drama “Game of Thrones” out of the picture, several nominated new drama series delivered strong women including young Queen Elizabeth II (nominee Claire Foy) in “The Crown” (Netflix), rebellious Offred (nominee Elisabeth Moss) in “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu), and gun-toting A.I. western heroine Dolores (nominee Evan Rachel Wood) in “Westworld” (HBO).
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In addition, Netflix’s zeitgeisty election drama “House of Cards” made the intensely competitive drama series cut, showing that President Frank Underwood (nominee Kevin Spacey) could not succeed without the wily strength of his equally terrifying wife and running mate Claire (nominee Robin Wright Penn). Unfortunately, last year’s surprise drama nominee “The Americans” (FX) did not make it, although Keri Russell, as the tougher half of a husband-and-wife team of Russian spies, landed an acting nod alongside Matthew Rhys.
Also falling victim to strong new drama series contenders were “Homeland” (Showtime) and three-time-Emmy-winner Claire Danes, snubbed this year, as well as Netflix’s multicultural, women-dominated prison saga “Orange Is the New Black,” which did land a supporting acting nod for Uzo Aduba. Female-centric shows “Fleabag” and “The Affair” (Showtime) also went unrecognized, and despite much media support, The CW’s innovative musical “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” had to settle for recognition only for its original songs.
Among the limited series, first-time nominee Carrie Coon was recognized for her comedy chops as Gloria Burgle in “Fargo” (FX), second-time nominee Nicole Kidman and first-timer Reese Witherspoon played two affluent Monterey housewives who band together in “Big Little Lies” (HBO), and three-time Emmy winner Jessica Lange and five-time nominee Susan Sarandon are two wily older actresses battling for supremacy on the set of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” in “Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX).
Among the comedy series, oft-awarded frontrunner “Veep” (HBO) celebrates the wily eccentricities of its central character, played brilliantly by Emmy perennial Julia Louis-Dreyfus, not to mention Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix) starring nominee Ellie Kemper, and Amazon’s family drama “Transparent,” led by lead actor nominee Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman. Persevering while landing laughs are older actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix) and Allison Janney in “Mom” (CBS).
On the directing side, it was refreshing to see directors include returning “Homeland”executive producer Leslie Linka Glatter, Reed Morano and Kate Daniels for single episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and multi-hyphenate Donald Glover landing not only an Lead Actor but writing and directing nods as well for “Atlanta.” Among the directors of color were non-fiction nominees Ava DuVernay for Oscar nominee “13th” (Netflix) and Oscar-winner Ezra Edelman for “O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN).
While “Moonlight” won the Best Picture Oscar this year and the prospects for a more diverse slate continue to improve as the Academy invited a spectrum of 744 new voters, including writer-director Barry Jenkins, television continues to provide a more accurate reflection of the real world than the movies.
CBS will air the Emmys live at 5 p.m. PT on September 17.