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Emmys: Zero Actors of Color Win During Primetime Ceremony Full of Diversity Platitudes

Despite various moments in the telecast when the Television Academy patted itself on the back for diversity efforts, the acting winners reflected otherwise.

Black Earth Rising Netflix Michaela Coel

Michaela Coel in “Black Earth Rising”

Sophie Mutevelian/BBC/Netflix

It’s been a year, and many of us retreated to the world of television. In a way, television helped us identify with people in a year where we couldn’t be connected, and that led to a lot of fantastically diverse work. But you don’t see that reflected in this year’s Emmy winners. Nature is healing and #EmmysSoWhite is back with a vengeance.

Much like last year and the year prior, Black nominees were represented in several categories and there were a few, specifically Best Actor in a Limited Series or Anthology, where Black and Latino nominees outnumbered white actors. The hope was high, especially since last year saw Zendaya, Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Uzo Aduba win in major categories. Even three out of the five Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series nominees were Black this year. Josh O’Connor, extremely acclaimed of course (like all the nominees in this category), ultimately won for “The Crown.”

The diversity across the nominees didn’t lead to an uptick in winners of color. Despite 49 non-Anglo creatives nominated in the acting and reality competition categories, just four were called the entire night: RuPaul Charles winning Best Variety Series with “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Michaela Coel winning the Writing Emmy for an Anthology or Limited Series for “I May Destroy You,” “Hamilton” receiving the pre-recorded Variety Special win, and part of the writing team of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.”

There was history made, with Coel becoming the first Black woman to win for Best Writing for a Limited Series, but that was it. MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter hoped to secure awards, specifically considering this was the final year for “Pose.” Their wins would have been historic. Rodriguez could have become the first trans nominee and only the second Latina nominated for Actress in a Drama for “Pose” while Porter would have been the second Black man to ever win in his category. But overall it seems it was hard for voters to see beyond “The Crown” and “Mare of Easttown.” Not even director Barry Jenkins could secure a win for his work on “The Underground Railroad,” losing out to the verbose “Queen’s Gambit” director Scott Frank.

Female creatives did do well. Jessica Hobbs became the fourth woman to ever win Drama Director for “The Crown.” And Lucia Aniello of “Hacks” winning Comedy Writing and Comedy Director made it the first time in Emmy history that two women won in directing categories. But it also brings up the painful reminder that Black female directors have not been included.

Adding insult to injury, a speech from Frank Scherma, the Chairman and CEO of the Television Academy, emphasized the creativity of numerous marginalized groups, from Indigenous creatives (none of whom were nominated) and Latinx (of which only “Hamilton” won as a Variety Special). He also shouted out the disabled, this in spite of “Crip Camp” director James LeBrecht taking to social media to say the Television Academy and CBS deceived him when they claimed to build a ramp that would be accessible for all presenters. More than any other year, the lip service wasn’t working.

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