The 2018 Emmy Awards aired on Sept. 17, 2018 and made history with the most diverse group of nominees ever. Twenty percent more non-white actors were nominated this year than last, with 36 nominations going to people of color. These figures brought many inside and outside of the Hollywood community hope for a positive trend toward inclusion and representation. There were some significant wins, with three people of color awarded for the categories Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series (Regina King), Outstanding Supporting Actress (Thandie Newton) and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series (Darren Criss — a University of Michigan alum who is half-Filipino, though does not directly identify as Asian American). Presented a week before at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards Show, all four guest actor categories were won by African American actors: Tiffany Haddish, Ron Cephas Jones, Samira Wiley and Katt Williams. These wins are significant, deserving and promising. The increased diversity is definitely something to be celebrating.
However, as the Emmys progressed, it became clear this great increase in nomination did not directly equate to winning. At the Primetime Emmy Awards, which are covered vastly more than the Creative Arts Emmys, the three wins listed above were the only people of color award recipients of the night. People of color found themselves all over the presentation stage, though, and the night was filled with diversity-fueled commentary by hosts and guests alike. This made the disparity even more obvious. The talent and performances of white winners were laudable, but the need to focus on the ever-prominent issue of inclusion and then have a show that scarcely recognizes the talent of diverse actors feels like positive dialogue with limited action.
The push for greater diversity in Hollywood became especially popular in the wake of the 2015 and 2016 Oscar Awards when no Black actors received nominations. This started the popular social media movement #OscarsSoWhite, which has been transferred to Hollywood as a whole, targeting other celebrations and recognition shows like the Emmys. Since the growth of discussion surrounding the topic of Hollywood inclusion, diversity has become prominent in the awards presentation writing, as made evident by the many jokes and two significant sketches in this year’s Emmys.
Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon, later joined by Sterling K. Brown, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell, Ricky Martin, RuPaul and John Legend, led a musical number titled “We Solved It.” It functions as a reference to diversity but also takes tackles sexual assault in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Thompson and McKinnon congratulate the Emmys for having the greatest amount of nomination diversity ever but go on to sarcastically respond to those who have championed this fact as a signal of the end of the fight. The sketch opened an important dialogue about victories, explaining these advancements are vital and should be celebrated, but do not indicate the end of the battle.
Michael Che, who co-hosted with Colin Jost, also presented a pre-taped sketch titled ” Reparation Emmys, ” where he presented Emmys to African American actors who he felt should be recognized for their past work. This bit included Marla Gibbs from “The Jeffersons”, Jimmie Walker from “Good Times,” Kadeem Hardison from “A Different World” and other prominent Black actors. This was another timely sketch that highlighted the lack of recognition of diverse talent in the past, which can be easily translated into our improving, yet struggling, culture of inclusion.
The need to support art is crucial to our culture, but the art that we see does not always match what real life is. As a white woman, I have always had my story told. I have seen examples of people like me and been able to model myself after the plethora of women who paved the way in film, television and the media. But there are so many other stories that need to be told. Representation matters to people. The Michigan Daily had two wonderful pieces published this fall in the wake of popular films “To All the Boys I Loved Before” and “Crazy Rich Asians” that discuss the issue of representation in a more authentic light. Amanda Zhang’s “More than just a teen romance” and Chelsea Racelis’ “So sayang: A mother & daughter’s review of Crazy Rich Asians” describe what representation means and should look like better than I ever could. But what I do know is everybody deserves to see their identity and culture in the media, and the actors and executives who make that happen deserve recognition for their work.
Though the conversation about diversity is reaching peak levels, the issue of inclusion is far from solved. The growing tension about the topic is important and the continual dialogue about increasing diversity and representation is significant, but the small gains do not mean that we can or should stop fighting for more. Since the birth of celebrity culture 100 years ago, there has been institutionalized discrimination and the talent of people of color has not been recognized. This is an issue for our entire society. The system is not going to be fixed in a few awards seasons. Make diversity a priority and keep fighting.
Erin White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.