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?

Joss Whedon and Mark Harris: Getting art and commerce to finally hook up

This weekend at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University, I was lucky enough to hear from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the entertainment business.

The weekend kicked off with Mark Harris, critic and author, who spoke about the need for both the producers and the consumers of media to raise the bar for pop culture.

To Harris, the relationship between consumers and producers of media is. . . a lot like a regular relationship – that when it works, it’s participatory, fun and meaningful – a lot like sex. As Harris actually put it, “I want better sex.” He observed that “We watch three things at once, and so we watch nothing at all.” The relationship has grown dysfunctional – a product of too many screens (he described getting distracted from writing his own speech by Hulu and Netflix), and and too little quality content on them. Harris challenged media makers to do interesting, edgy, inspiring work – and in return, he promised to pay more attention.

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

On Saturday evening, Joss Whedon also gave us a sex metaphor to describe the current state of the entertainment industry (what is it about Wesleyan University that inspires all this media lust?). Whedon described independent media and studio film as “. . .doing a very awkward mating dance. They’re coming together and they are going to have to have sex.” I’d say that is pretty apt. Some people in traditional media “get” new media (such as the clever webisodes from The Office) – but so far there’s a lot of flirting without anyone making a move. However, Whedon also insisted that “When the industry changes, as it can and will and must, the only thing left standing will be the telling of the story.”

Joss Whedon flew in for his talk after wrapping his film Cabin in the Woods, and before starting to shoot season 2 of Dollhouse on Monday. As he put it, the Dollhouse renewal is “Fine for you, but I had plans this summer.” Thank you, Joss Whedon, for forgoing the beach in favor of giving us something smart and funny to watch in the chilly months. Maybe the Actives can go on assignment in Hawaii?

Next up on the blog:

More from Joss Whedon’s talk: The future of Dollhouse, that pesky Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and the creative process.

More from the Shasha Seminar: Why two esteemed TV producers would not buy a TV show about under cover cover models – aka, pitching is harder than it looks.