The Emmys Diversity Problem Is Summed Up Perfectly In This One Tweet
Despite Andy Samberg's amazing opening song and monologue, there's a problem we cannot ignore about the Emmys — well, about award shows in general, really. In fact, Samberg himself illustrated that fact with a pointed joke at the end of his song: "I'm the only one qualified to be hosting, because I've done watched every damn show. And I'm white." But not even that — or the subsequent jokes about diversity / genuine attempts to raise awareness of this pervasive problem — comes anywhere close to summarizing the lack of diversity at the 2015 Emmys as one single tweet put out by writer and TheLi.st co-founder Rachel Sklar during the ceremony. With a photo and less than 140 characters, she showed everything that is wrong with the Emmys.
The context is as follows. Samberg took the stage after the song, launching straight into an opening monologue that was filled with some genuinely hilarious jokes which poked fun at everything from celebrity feuds to Donald Trump. However, the camera then panned out to Samberg standing in front of an audience that was largely made up of white actors and industry insiders. The number of people of color in the room was so overwhelmed by the number of white people that I literally had to squint in order to find any of them. Sklar points to this as a perfect illustration of how far the Emmys has to go to step up its diversity game.
And she's not wrong. It's so easy to praise the Emmys for nominating two black women for Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series instead of the one from last year, until you remember that until now, a black woman had never actually won in that category. To be frank, it's hard to praise the Emmys for anything at all when you see the view from the stage. It proves that no matter how many people of color have been nominated, the likelihood that they will take home an award is slim when you factor in exactly how many white actors, actresses, directors and writers they're going up against.
I'm not saying that white actors and actresses aren't incredibly talented and fully deserving of their nominations. I'm saying that white actors and actresses are disproportionately recognized for those talents, while actors and actresses of color are overlooked in favor of them. I'm saying that no matter how hard actors and actresses of color work, they will never get the same recognition for their prowess with their craft as white actors and actresses effortlessly receive. That was more than illustrated this past year when the Oscars nominated more white people for awards than they ever have in the past 17 years, to the detriment of people of color. And it's more than illustrated by this single photo of the Emmys crowd. It's a bit hard to say that the diversity problem is all fixed when there isn't even a diverse crowd of nominees and guests in the room watching the awards.
The Emmys, like every award show, has a long way to go toward providing us with nominees and winners that reflect the diverse viewing audience tuning in to these television shows year after year. But to be fair, they can't shoulder that burden alone. Television also has great strides to make in order to normalize its landscape of shows to reflect the fact that not everyone watching a television is white, and that people of color need to see more people who look like them as supporting and lead characters. This past season, we've seen shows like Jane the Virgin, Empire, Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat challenge the largely white landscape of television. Now, we just need to see the Emmys step up and do their part to recognize these shows, and their actors and crews, as often as they recognize white actors and crew members. Until then, we have this tweet to remind us that the battle isn't over.