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David Attenborough Wins Emmy for Outstanding Narrator

The win comes with its fair share of controversy; Attenborough was the only white nominee, and it's his third win in a row.

DIVING DEEP: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MIKE DEGRUY, British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, 2019. © Adventure Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection

David Attenborough

Courtesy Everett Collection

David Attenborough cemented his third straight win at tonight’s Creative Artists Emmy Awards, taking home the Emmy for Outstanding Narration for his work on the BBC America documentary “Seven Worlds, One Planet.” The win comes with its fair share of controversy, though, considering Attenborough — the go-to narrator over the decades for nature documentaries — was the only white nominee.

The Outstanding Narrator category is a relatively young one for the Emmys. It initially debuted back in 2016. Attenborough’s win is a bit of a shock considering the Emmys’ push towards diversity and inclusion, especially in a year where this very category saw four of five nominees being Black performers. However, the category, historically, has often been the domain of white Englishmen, going back to the year the category debuted; Jeremy Irons was the first Outstanding Narrator winner for his work on “Game of Lions.” Since that time predominately white actors have snagged wins, including Meryl Streep and Peter Coyote.

But when it comes to nature documentaries specifically, Attenborough is the one to beat. He’s been nominated four out of seven years since the category’s inclusion and he’s gone to win the last two years. He previously won for his voice work on “Blue Planet II” and “Our Planet,” both documentaries for BBC America. Attenborough is an institution at BBC where he started working in 1952. He would start dabbling in nature documentaries in the late-1970s starting with the series “Life on Earth” and “The Living Planet.”

It’s been four years since the first (and at this point only) Black actor won an Emmy for Outstanding Narration, that being Keith David for the documentary “Jackie Robinson.” Up until this point Black women were also edging out Black men in this category, with Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett being prior nominees. Bassett herself was also nominated for her work on the Disney+ series “The Imagineering Story.” In fact, it was this statistic that Nyong’o was saddest to hear about when she spoke to IndieWire. “The very fact that you can give that statistic is proof positive that there’s still work to be done,” Nyong’o said.

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