Emmy Acting Categories Showed Diversity — but Significant Struggles Remain

Despite the inroads by Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Uzo Aduba, and Zendaya, the Emmys remain a ceremony that only incidentally celebrates diversity.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II accepts the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for "Watchmen" during the 72nd Emmy Awards telecast on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT/5:00 PM PDT on ABC. (Invision for the Television Academy/AP)
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

It seems like every year we repeat the same thing: that [insert awards show here] emphasizes white males over everyone else. At the outset of this year’s Emmys, there was some hope. Sure, there were no Latinx or disabled nominees at all, but several of the categories had half or nearly all Black nominees. The problem is once the actual ceremonies began — starting on Sept. 14 with five nights of Creative Artists Emmys and concluding tonight with the Primetime Emmys — those nominees infrequently became winners.

It would take over an hour for the first Black performer at the Primetime Emmys to actually win an award, that being Regina King for “Watchmen,” tying the record alongside Alfre Woodard for most acting Emmys won in a career by a Black performer. From there, just three other Black actors would win during the evening: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, also for “Watchmen”; Uzo Aduba for her role as Shirley Chisholm in “Mrs. America”; and Zendaya, becoming the youngest winner, for her role on “Euphoria.”

This small turnout is frustrating, but it’s made even more so by what almost looked like the Emmys tripping over themselves to apologize and/or emphasize how progressive they were. Over half the presenters were of color or another minority, and many were average people brought in for pre-taped segments honoring essential workers. Segments emphasized the need for diverse programming and both Tyler Perry and Lena Waithe urged the industry to hire diverse talent.

It emphasizes that recognition of a problem isn’t the same as solving a problem. That, still, takes bold moves by those in the industry and lip service during the presentation of an awards show doesn’t cut it.

Take the positive actions of Nena Erb, Emmy-winning editor for “Insecure,” who used her speech to praise series creator Issa Rae for taking a chance on her. And the makeup team for CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Picard,” a group comprised of five men, who made a point of stating that because of Emmy rules two of their team members, who were women, were excluded from the win. The Creative Artists Emmys became a place where women, especially women of color, were praised for sticking their necks out and using their status to elevate others.

The dichotomy between words and actions became particularly egregious towards the end of the Primetime Emmys during a segment about America Ferrera, still the only Latina to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, as she discussed her journey as an actor. Considering this year saw no Latinx people nominated anywhere at the Primetime Emmys, this was pandering at best and poor taste at worst. It was almost comical how many of these segments played with none of the presenters pointing out this disconnect, though Laverne Cox seemed to imply some bitterness when presenting her award.

It’s hoped that next year the Television Academy will do more to practice what they so desperately wanted to preach. It’s all well and good to remind showrunners to hire people to tell their stories, but that doesn’t do much when awards bodies continue to have winners that are overwhelmingly so pale, male, and stale.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.