Every time award season comes around, I find myself crossing my fingers, and hoping to see some diversity represented among the nominees. Yes, it is 2015, and I still have to fervently hope for that; I don't even bother to hope for it among the winners, because I've given up on that dream. So, when the 2015 Emmy nominations rolled around on Thursday, I closed my eyes and wished upon an unseen star that the 2015 Emmys would recognize the powerhouse performances, poignant plots, and gorgeous music inherent in Fox's darkhouse drama Empire, which is, as far as I am concerned, one of the most diverse shows on television. However, while Taraji P. Henson got her prerequisite nomination for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Empire was snubbed at the 2015 Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series, and I can't figure out why.
Sure, the show was going up against the likes of Downton Abbey, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, Mad Men, and Orange Is The New Black, but, come on. How many Emmys has Downton Abbey already won? (The answer there is the show has been nominated for five, and won four.) Instead of giving yet another nomination to these veteran shows, it would have been so much more exciting for me if an Emmy nod had been given to Empire. In its first season alone, Empire has completed dominated the ratings, to the point that it went from being a show that people were dubious of to a show that everyone was rushing to write a "what is the secret to Empire's success?" thinkpiece about. Most shows take until their second season to reach their stride, but Empire hit it from the pilot and kept on hitting it straight through to the finale, pulling in more and more viewers every single week.
In addition to that, Empire is one of the few shows on television with a cast that is predominantly built of people of color, joining the likes of Fresh Off The Boat, black-ish, and Jane the Virgin in proving to the world that stories that don't focus on a) the world as seen through the viewpoint of a Caucasian male or female or b) the world as seen through the eyes of a person of color in a predominantly Caucasian cast can be ratings successes. It's something that the world has known for a while, but that television networks have been slow to catch up on, and the fact that Empire not only shows us a family of color, but gives them a supporting cast of color — basically giving more TV jobs to African-American actors in one fell swoop than most shows in any given TV network lineup combined — is groundbreaking in today's society.
So why didn't Empire receive that Emmys nod? Don't get me wrong. Henson's nomination is a complete victory, and Cookie Lyon is the heart and soul of the entire show, but, despite her being the breakout character, there is so much more about Empire to recognize. Jamal's struggle, not with his own sexuality, but with how his sexuality is perceived by his society and, most importantly, by the father whose affections he can't help but want. Hakeem and his journey from a self-absorbed brat to a talented performer and grown man. Andre, and the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Representation not just for gay men in Jamal, but also bisexual women in Tiana. Representation for the unique perspective of being a Caucasian woman who married into a family of color, through Rhonda. Themes of religion, of family, of love, of loss, of music, so much great music. How can you watch the scene where Lucious throws Jamal in the garbage for coming downstairs in his mother's heels and scarf, and not cry?
Even if you don't believe, as I do, that Empire is the best show on television, it should still have gotten a nomination for what it represents. It represents the outstanding success that a show by people of color, starring people of color, for the entire world to enjoy can have. It represents the start of a change in our culture, where networks see the value of programs starring people who aren't Caucasian — shows that aren't just written or produced by Shonda Rhimes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Rhimes can't normalize the television landscape alone. Shows like Empire, and the continued success of shows like Empire, are what will help to usher us toward a world where anyone, from any culture, of any race can turn on the TV and watch a show that features people who look like them. People who aren't one-off characters, or stereotypes, or due to die in a few episodes.
I still can't believe that Empire didn't receive a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, but I suppose there's always next year. This show isn't going anywhere but up anytime soon.