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Emmys: controversy for a showcase of apparent diversity and people of colour

“I’m sure the last thing the Television Academy wanted was to have an ‘Emmys so white’ controversy in the middle of all that,” explained Eric Deggans, TV critic for National Public Radio (NPR) and also a journalist for more than 20 years. “So I’m not surprised they paid special attention to the work of Black performers,” added Deggans, author of the 2012 book “Race Baiter.”

From “Insecure”s 20-something women to the Muslim-American star of “Ramy,” Sunday’s Emmy line-up is an unprecedented showcase for diversity and people of colour, apparently.

Nonetheless, nominations open doors for Blacks, Asians and Latinos and shape perceptions beyond the world of entertainment, said Rashad Robinson, American civil rights leader and president of Color of Change, after having served as a board member of RaceForward, Demos, State Voices, and currently sits on the board of the Hazen Foundation.

Image credit Devdiscourse

“What these awards represent is the industry’s way of creating a system of letting people in, of creating access to jobs and opportunities,” Robinson pointed out. “It dictates the stories we get to see in the world about who we are, and that has deep implications on the unwritten rules about how we are treated in hospitals, by judges and at schools.”

However, the television industry needs to take concrete action on pledges to encourage non-white writers and directors to ensure that the 2020 awards ceremony is not just a blip triggered by summer of Black Lives Matter protests over systemic racism in many countries worldwide, observers say.

While record Emmy nominations for people of colour included nods for Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere” and “American Son”), Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”), Billy Porter (“Pose”), Regina King (“Watchmen”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us” and “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel”), “Watchmen,” the superhero alternative reality drama infused with racial themes, led nominations with 26 nods.

Yet, the Emmy nominees came from shows that were created and starred before the US began a painful cultural reckoning over racism this summer.

More creations are on their way, such as the documentary “Driving While Black,” “Woke” about a Black cartoonist who has an encounter with police, the abolitionist drama “The Good Lord Bird,” and “Enslaved” about the history of the slave trade.

Image credit TOMMASO BODDI/WIREIMAGE/Meredith Corporation, Entertainment Weekly

Robinson admitted that he is very excited to see Black artists and stories breakthrough, more structural changes such as inclusion riders, diversity in writers’ rooms and fully rounded characters are needed to ensure lasting change in the society.

“It’s not enough to care. It’s not enough to be aware,” he said. “We have to have people willing to act and to make real changes.”

Deggans noted that Latinx talent is still largely ignored at the Emmys, even though Latinos form America’s second-largest ethnic group after whites.

“Regrettably, so much of the recognition fell on Black performers and there wasn’t a little bit more concerning Latinx people especially,” said Deggans, noting that shows like “Gentefied,” “Vida” and “One Day at a Time” were largely overlooked.

“The cause of Latinx representation in Hollywood is a little further back - where Black people were, say, 10 years ago,” Deggans concluded.

Eventually, the Emmy Awards will be announced on Sunday at a virtual ceremony televised on ABC. Are you ready for it?


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