Emmy Nominations Lacking in Diversity

I just did the math:  Only six people of color were nominated for acting Emmy awards this year (that includes categories like supporting actor in a miniseries). For the men, that’s 1 nomination of a possible 45. For the women, that’s 6 nominations of 45 (Chandra Wilson was nominated twice):

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  Accidental Friendship, Chandra Wilson as Yvonne
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:  Grey’s Anatomy, Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:  Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh as Dr. Christina Yang
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:  30 Rock, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:  Ugly Betty, Vanessa Williams as Wilhelmina Slater
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  House of Saddam, Shohreh Aghdashloo as Sajida
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:  Relative Stranger, Cicely Tyson as Pearl

I can’t say I’m surprised.  In the past, Emmy had notoriously neglected the brilliant HBO series The Wire, which featured some of the greatest TV performances of all time, and highlighted the work of actors like Andre Royo, Idris Elba, and Sonja Sohn.

But I was hoping for a greater diversity of actors now that Emmy offers six spots instead of five in each category.  It’s hard to make an argument that there wasn’t anyone to nominate.  Edward James Olmos and Grace Park turned out stellar performances in the final season of Battlestar Galactica.  Masi Oka is consistently the only entertaining spark in the increasingly lifeless hour of Heroes that I subject myself to.  Mindy Kaling is hilarious on the Office.  And, by the way, what happened to the Emmy love for America Ferrera and Ana Ortiz from Ugly Betty?  What about Dule Hill from Psych?  That show has to be funnier than Two and a Half Men (so are youtube videos of cats on a Roomba).

But the actor who blew me away this season, and again has failed to capture an Emmy nod, is Idris Elba.  His guest star spot on The Office, where he deadpanned through Michael’s insane behavior, Jim’s insubordination, and the not-so-subtle advances of Kelly and Angela, was both real and surreal (much like the rest of The Office).  Unfortunately, the only clip of him on Hulu doesn’t his performance justice:

In tough economic times, networks are only going to produce shows that they think are bankable. And until we start acknowledging the talent of a greater diversity of actors, we’ll see networks turning out one white male driven storyline after another.

It’s not about percentages or quotas or anything like that. It’s about the abundance of storytelling that is possible within the medium of television. It’s possible to tell rich stories that the viewing public hasn’t yet seen, it’s possible to include the voices of non-white characters, to build up backstories that are engaging and new. There are too many cookie cutter white doctors/lawyers/cops who just want to make good/get their kids back/look handsome in a scruffy beard. It’s lazy storytelling, and it doesn’t contribute to or reflect the richness of American pop culture. Chandra Wilson, twice nominated this year, expresses the need for strong female, and strong African American characters well when she says that her character serves as an inspiration to others (see clip at the top of this page).

Who would you have nominated for the Emmy Awards this year? Who do you feel was missing from past Emmy awards? And which of the nominated actors will take home gold?

3 thoughts on “Emmy Nominations Lacking in Diversity

  1. Here’s a question I don’t have an answer to: how does the percentage of non-white-men nominated compare to the percentage of non-white-men in the casts overall?

    Not that it’d make the situation any better, really, but perhaps the fault here lies, at least in part, with the casting directors, rather than the Emmy nominators. At the least, I’d be curious to know the numbers.

  2. That’s a good question. I know that the percentage is way off from the population as a whole, but I don’t know where in the chain things start to deviate. Anyone have numbers on this?

  3. The section of this article titled “The Numbers” has some recent statistics: http://www.backstage.com/bso/news-and-features-news/is-the-tv-screen-fading-to-white-1003990001.story The NAACP and the SAG both did studies relatively recently. The most damaging statistic: Fox dropped from 98 non-white characters in the 02-03 season to 51 in the 07-08 season. I remember hearing that when the fall lineup for last year was announced, the only new show with an African American character in the lead role was the Cleaveland Show (the animated Family Guy spinoff). I haven’t been able to track down the specific article that said that, but I hope someone else can. . .

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