Lack of various interim winners suggests structural voting issues
The Emmy Award statue on the campus of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles during a behind-the-scenes look reveals the biggest night on television at the Television Academy in Los Angeles.
Al Seib | Los Angeles Weather | Getty Images
Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards may have had a record number of diverse nominees, but the lack of diversity of its interim winners has made many say #EmmysSoWhite.
Although artists of color make up nearly half of all actor nominations, white actors swept through the 12 main and secondary races in the comedy, drama, and limited series categories.
“It was disappointing,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences and professor of sociology and African American studies at UCLA. “It becomes a numbers game after a while. When you have 44% of the nominees who are people of color and you have 0% winning, something structural happens.”
Few would say that icons like Kate Winslet, Olivia Coleman and Gillian Anderson or breakout artists like Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham did not deserve their Emmy wins. However, Sunday’s snub to non-white artists is nothing new and has called into question Hollywood’s ability to celebrate excellence fairly.
This is especially important when ceremonies like the Emmy Awards offer winners more than just a gold trophy. An Emmy win brings prestige to both the winner and the studio they work for, which can lead to bigger paychecks and better funding for future productions, Hunt said.
Over the past decade, the streaming service Netflix has gained invaluable prestige with Emmy wins for shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “The Crown”, which has helped it attract top talent. like Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and Guillermo del Toro.
Part of the problem with this year’s Emmys is the optics. While the Primetime ceremony, which aired on CBS on Sunday, saw no acting awards given to people of color, the Creative Arts Emmys, which took place the week before, did.
Courtney B. Vance was honored for her guest role on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”, Dave Chappelle and Maya Rudolph each won an award for hosting “Saturday Night Live,” Sterling K. Brown took home a win for the Outstanding Narrator and Keke Palmer and JB Smoove won the Awards for Outstanding Actress and Actor in Short Form Comedy or Drama, respectively.
The problem is, these awards were presented at a separate, less publicized event.
“In the technical categories of the Creative Arts Emmys, there have been a lot of wins for people of color,” said Nate Thomas, professor of film and television arts and director of the film production program at California State University. “So I guess my point is that just because it wasn’t at TV prices or prime time… there’s still value in that.”
Thomas, who won a regional Emmy Award in 2014 for producing and directing a public service television commercial for the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said the Television Academy has “come a long way” in recent years, “compared to eight or nine years ago, when people of color didn’t earn anything.”
Yet these creative arts awards don’t have quite the same appeal in the industry as those given out during prime time.
Juggle for gold
While studios can rack up victories in the creative arts, a lot of the focus is on “grand prizes” like the lead actor or actress or an outstanding comedy or drama. These are the rewards that most audiences pay attention to and provide prestige to businesses.
That’s why traditional cable networks and streaming platforms spend tens of millions on marketing campaigns just to get nominations and even more once they get them. This marketing, along with word of mouth from the public, can help influence voting members.
However, not all shows have the same marketing budget.
“Has HBO done enough to promote a very popular and creative show like ‘Lovecraft Country’ to Emmy voters?” Brandy Monk-Payton, a professor at Fordham University specializing in portraying African-American media, asked in an email to CNBC. “Well, they had already canceled the show and so the likelihood that their energy was directed towards such a program in terms of an active campaign for its actors and the show itself was probably slim.”
Vance, who won for his role as George Freeman on “Lovecraft Country,” also asked this question during a post-Emmys conversation with reporters on Monday.
“It is sometimes mind-boggling that a show as popular and as transformational as ‘Lovecraft Country’ was, that there was nothing,” he said.
“Lovecraft Country,” which featured a predominantly black cast, was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards in the Primetime and Creative Arts categories. For comparison, “Mare of Easttown,” which was also distributed by HBO and featured a predominantly white cast, was nominated for 16.
Representatives of Warner Bros. were not immediately available for comment.
There are many reasons why HBO may have leaned more into promoting a show like “Mare of Easttown” compared to “Lovecraft Country”. As Monk-Payton noted, “Lovecraft Country” has been canceled. And a star like Winslet, who titled “Mare of Easttown,” is a known entity in Hollywood, which means Emmy voters might be more inclined to vote for her due to her background as a performer.
“There is so much product to watch on TV now that I don’t know of any member of the academy who has watched all of these shows,” Thomas said. “So part of it becomes a marketing and popularity contest.”
After all, there were 133 dramas, 68 comedies, 41 limited series and 41 TV movies on the ballot just to determine who would get nominated. And this is significantly lower than last year, because the pandemic has interrupted productions and reduced the number of votes.
A way forward
“I don’t think the issue is too contained, especially considering it is a pernicious inability for Emmy voters to think imaginatively and outside of what is familiar to them,” Monk said. Payton.
“This year has revealed the ease with which these organizational bodies return to the status quo after upheaval,” she added. “They briefly ‘rely’ on structural racism by providing surface solutions to deep-rooted problems of exclusion and inequity. However, they do not ensure that systemic change happens and becomes permanent.”
Those critical of Sunday’s results suggest that the Television Academy is expanding its membership to include more people of color in its ranks.
Before the pandemic, the academy had around 25,000 members, but that number has dropped by 5,000, according to a report from Variety. Unlike the Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences, there is no clear breakdown of members.
The Television Academy seems to be making the effort. Sunday’s telecast was packed with various presenters, including the cast and creator of Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs,” a film starring native cast and crew.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has reshuffled its membership adding more people of color and more women to its community over the past five years. This strategy appears to be paying off, as the list of nominees and winners for 2021 contained notable firsts.
The 93rd Academy Awards marked the first time an all-black production team had been nominated for Best Picture, the first time two Asian-born actors had received a nod for Best Actor, and the first year in which two women were nominated for best director. When the winners were revealed, it reflected this spirit of inclusion.
Chloe Zhao won the trophy for best achievement, becoming the second woman to win the title. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, two-thirds of the hair and makeup team behind “My Rainey’s Black Bottom,” were the first black women to receive a nomination for best makeup and hairstyle and the first to win.
“Soul”, which won the award for best animated feature, is also Pixar’s first film to feature a black character in the lead. And Yuh-Jung Youn was the first Korean performer to win in one of four acting categories.
There is still no “quick fix” that will immediately solve a long-standing inclusiveness problem, Hunt said.
“You really have to fight it on all fronts,” he said, noting that more people of color need to be included in every part of the industry.