Diversity progress at this year's Emmys, but it hasn't always been this way

Diversity progress at this year’s Emmys, but it hasn’t always been this way


This year’s Emmy Awards are the most diverse yet with 38 black actors and performers being nominated for their performances across 16 acting categories. This is a huge leap from previous years, where the vast majority of nominees have been white. In July, the L.A Times reported on a study of the awards’ historical lack of racial diversity.

Between 2015 to 2019, 82 percent of nominees across 19 prime-time Emmy categories were white. More than three-fourths of the acting nominees were white. 90 percent of the writing and directing nominees were white. In total, black performers made up 14 percent of nominees, Asian 2 percent, and Latinos, just one percent.

These figures prove the country has a long way to go in terms of fair and equal representation of its citizens on the big screen. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 18 percent of the country’s total population; black people 13 percent, Asian/Pacific Islanders 6 percent and First Nations American Indians 1 percent.

In 2018, the Writers Guild of America’s 2020 WGAW Inclusion Report found that 65 percent of people with TV writing jobs were white. Latinos held 8.7 percent of positions in the field.

Similar figures were reported recently by NBC News, which ran analysis of nominations from the past 10 years.

It revealed that almost 80 percent of nominations went to white performers. Black performers constituted roughly 15 percent of nominations; 3 percent to Latinos, 2 percent to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and roughly 1 percent to people of Middle Eastern or Northern African descent. At the 2010 awards, 88 of the 93 acting nominations went to white performers. 

President of the racial justice organisation Colour of Change, Rashad Robinson, said diversity at major awards shows needs to be taken seriously as nominations can launch the careers of performers who are not white. “In the midst of so many different racial justice issues I could care about, I care about this because of the economic consequences on real people,” Robinson told NBC News.

“It is embarrassing that an industry situated in Los Angeles continues to have such a lack of Latino representation.” Robinson said “None of this, to me, is an accident or a mistake.”

The domination of white performers and actors being recognised at award shows can only be seen as “one of the lagging indicators of how the industry has operated for years: who has been given opportunities, who has had doors opened to them,” Robinson added.  A 2019 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report revealed that performers and actors of colour were cast in lead roles in only 21.5 percent of broadcast shows, 21.3 percent of cable shows and 21.3 percent of digital shows like Netflix. 

A spokesperson for the Television Academy said in a statement this week that the organisation is ready to change its ways in recognising “outstanding,” performers. “As an organisation which is open for membership to all individuals working in the television industry, the Television Academy fervently agrees that there is still much work to be done across our industry in regards to representation,” the spokesperson said.

“We feel it is a very positive sign that over the past decade the well-deserved recognition of performers of colour has increased from 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 nominees across all performer categories.” 

“Clearly that increase in representation has not been equal for all groups, and clearly there is still more to do to improve both gender and racial representation across all categories,” the spokesperson said.

So far, we’ve learned of some wins. Regina King has taken out Best Actress in a Limited Series for her role in The Watchmen. The show’s writer Cord Jefferson has taken out Best Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Sequel, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has won Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for his role in the show.

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