Diversity At The 2015 Emmys Is A Poor Reflection Of A Larger Problem Hollywood Has Yet To Solve
Ah, is it that time again already? Man, how time does fly when you're casting a critical net over the contents of an award show and sifting through your findings for a golden glimmer of that little thing called diversity. For example, how did the 2015 Emmys handle diversity? The answer is not well. Diversity is a word that comes up a lot when it comes to media, and a problem that continues to bewilder and amuse me because of how simple it would be to fix. In a year that was kicked off by a group of Oscar nominees that featured more white people than the nominations list has seen in 17 years, it's only natural that we should be overly critical of every award show that comes after the Oscars failed before they even started. I mean, this is an issue that has been at the forefront of the American mind for a while — even more so since January 2015. And the Emmys could have done a better job contributing to that conversation.
The show kicked off with Andy Samberg poking fun at the lack of diversity in award shows during his opening song, joking, "I'm the only one qualified to be hosting, because I've done watched every damn show. And I'm white." His joke was made all the more impactful by a later look at the audience watching his monologue — an overwhelmingly white audience. The truly sad thing about that moment was that the well-placed camera angle wasn't actually part of the joke. It was an accident that just happened to exactly highlight the entire problem with the rest of the ceremony.
Take, for example, when Regina King surprised the audience by pulling out a triumphant win in the Supporting Actress — Limited Series or Movie category against three actresses from American Horror Story: Freak Show, one from Bessie, and one from Olive Kitteridge. It was a bittersweet moment for me. Why? Well, King thus became the first person of color of the night to win an Emmy during the ceremony — over an hour and several categories in. The number of white people being paraded onto the stage to accept an award drowning out the number of people of color doing the same was glaring noticeable, especially since there was more diversity among the presenters than among the actual winners.
It also became glaringly noticeable when King was the last person of color to win for several categories after Supporting Actress — Limited Series or Movie, resulting in numerous snubs throughout the rest of the Limited Series or Movie categories. Where was the Emmy for David Oyelowo? For Queen Latifah? For American Crime, the series that landed King her Emmy? With the sheer number of people of color who were nominated in the Limited Series or Movie categories, you would think that more of them would have taken home an actual award. Especially when there were other categories of the night featuring a list of nominees that had no people of color on them at all.
Of course, there were some small victories. Aside from King's surprising and well-deserved win, we had Viola Davis take home the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series — the first black actress to ever do so — and she, of course, used as an opportunity to call attention to the diversity issue: "Let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there." And isn't that just the crux of the issue right there? The problem with the lack of diversity at the Emmys is a problem with the lack of diversity in Hollywood. The fact that so many white actors took home awards over actors of color is compounded by the handful of actors of color that even land the roles that might get them nominated for an award that they might win at the Emmys every year. The diversity issue in Hollywood runs so deep that the Emmys ends up just being a reflection of a larger problem.
Could the 2015 Emmys have been more diverse? Absolutely. I can't tell you how much more enjoyable the ceremony would have been if there had been as much diversity in the audience and among the winners as there were among the presenters on the stage. But I also can't tell you how low my hopes were going into the ceremony after seeing how white actors were dominating the list of nominees to begin with. Maybe the 2016 Emmys will be different, with shows like Orange is the New Black, Fresh Off The Boat, Black-ish, Empire, and more hitting their stride. Maybe actors of color will get the recognition that they deserve as TV crawls its way toward opening up more opportunities for them to play the same broad range of roles as their white counterparts. Maybe there will actually come a day where a diversity report card for an award show doesn't end in disappointment for all involved. It would just be nice for there to be less "maybes" in the uncertain future of diversity and more actual results.
Image: Chuck Hodes/FOX