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?

Interview with Amanda Hirsch

This is the third and final interview in our series talking with filmmakers who led teams in 48HFP-DC 2009. In our first two interviews we talked with Jasmine Bulin, a first time participant and Ishu Krishna, a long-time veteran. Today we bring you an interview with Amanda Hirsch of CreativeDC, who entered her team for the second time this year.

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Still Indie: Amanda, how did you get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project?

Amanda Hirsch: I perform with Washington Improv Theater (WIT), and they’ve been participating in the 48 hour film project for years. The WIT community has gotten so big, though, that it doesn’t make sense for everyone to work on one film anymore, so last year, a bunch of us decided to give it a go on our own, and we had a blast, so we did it again this year.

SI: What genre were you hoping for and which one did your team draw?

AH: We were hoping for anything but “mockumentary”, and we drew “mockumentary” 🙂 As improvisors we just thought that was low hanging fruit (we play with that style of storytelling a lot on stage), and wanted to challenge ourselves to stretch a bit more. So we put it back and ended up with “surprise ending,” which was the only other genre we really didn’t want — so it goes.

SI: What story did you tell?

AH: “Happy Hour” is about a lonely, lonely guy who so longs for friendship that he convinces himself he’s friends with complete strangers, creating elaborate back-stories in his head. The “surprise” is that for the whole movie, you think these people are really his friends, and then you realize they don’t know him from Adam. We tried to play with tone to underscore the element of surprise — you think it’s an upbeat episode of Friends, and then it gets really depressing and creepy really fast (we hope).

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

SI: What was the biggest challenge your team faced?

AH: It’s hard to assess how effective a surprise ending is when you’ve been so close to writing, shooting and editing the “surprise.” When we watched the first rough cut, our hearts sank – the surprise didn’t have any impact. We realized it was because there wasn’t enough of a tonal shift, so we redid the voiceover. When we watched again, we all had this moment of, “Ohh, wow, that was CREEPY.” So we were pretty sure it worked. But I’ve seen it 15 or 20 times now and I just have no idea if it works or not – I can’t tell! I need some distance.

SI: What was the best moment of the weekend?

AH: There were a lot of them – having everyone get really excited and on the same page about the story on Friday night was really cool. Then getting to see our editor, Jon Reiling, work his magic – seeing how he wove in b-roll and music to really bring the story to life on-screen. And he and our other director of photography, Bryce Whittaker, got some really cool shots looking in through the window of the bar where we shot, which were pivotal to conveying this notion of a stranger looking in on something he doesn’t have, and coveting it.

SI: Will you be participating again next year?

AH: Abso-fucking-lutely!

That’s the spirit! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions Amanda and keep up the great work!  If you still think DC is just a mainstream city, stop by Amanda’s site at CreativeDC.org and find out what you’ve been missing.  If you missed our first two segments this weekend, check out Jasmine’s perspective as a first-time participant and our interview with 48HFP veteran Ishu Krishna. If you’ve got questions for Amanda’s team, leave them in the comments section below.