A red carpet rolled out under a red sky. The scene in Los Angeles this past week looked like an eerie scene out of a film telling the fictional story of an apocalypse from another planet. But this movie is real life and it was the backdrop for the 72nd Emmy Awards.
Typically a beloved celebration of television and the arts, the Television Academy’s award show was received differently this year; it came at a devastating time for the city of Los Angeles and faced unusual resistance from younger generations as it stood in stark contrast to the surrounding smoke and uncertainty.
“I absolutely could not care less about the Emmys,” said Alysa Delarosa, a junior majoring in psychology. “My state (California) is on fire, the elections are around the corner, and I have school. Why on earth would I want to take the time to watch a bunch of rich celebrities win or or not win expensive awards that go on to collect dust on their shelves?”
The show, which took place remotely on Sept. 20, has historically featured a glamorous red carpet event, a sea of Hollywood’s most renowned celebrities and notorious afterparties. This year, host Jimmy Kimmel took to the stage of an empty Staples Center to announce winners in categories from Outstanding Comedy Series to Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The celebration featured the video-profiles of nominees alongside their families, as Kimmel told jokes and read off awards and winners delivered speeches from their own homes.
Outside the stadium, however, a continuing global pandemic, protests of police killings and wildfires causing what the LA Times has reported as the worst air quality in Downtown LA in over two decades pressed on. The show came at a time when television and movies represent a form of escapism for many, while others find it difficult to focus on celebration in the face of these challenges.
In recent years, award shows have become more of a platform for political discourse. Red carpet interviews and winners' speeches have centered around everything from the #MeToo movement and #OscarsSoWhite to the impact of climate change. Now with a virtual format, viewers were left wondering to what extent the remote production and acceptance speeches adequately address the current situation in Los Angeles and the world at large.
“Now, if they talk about the fires, Black Lives Matter and the elections and what they’re doing about all of that and more, then I would feel more inclined to tune in,” Delarosa said.
It should also be noted that the broadcast is available primarily on ABC and its streaming partner Hulu (through the premium subscription), posing an obstacle for many young viewers who don’t have access to cable television or don’t watch live TV. According to the Consumer Technology Association, people between the ages of 18 and 34 spend less than half of their time consuming videos or watching live TV. Though this year’s nominees contain more shows from streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu than ever before, this may not be enough to hold the attention of some members of Generation Z.
For SCA sophomore Evie Masters, this year’s ceremony was a broader reflection of the way the world is operating in a virtual manner.
“They’re adapting in the same way that we have to adapt with online learning,” said Masters. “Was it the best Emmys that there ever could have been? No. But are we learning in the best environment or socializing in the best environment? No.”
Masters also shared her thoughts regarding the nominees and winners, explaining that while the Emmys may have diversified their nominees, they are in need of greater structural change in order to create a more equitable industry.
“They’ve been having more diverse nominees, but when it comes to the actual shows themselves, the shows as a whole aren’t very diverse,” said Masters. “So Zendaya got nominated for and won for Euphoria, but like Schitt’s Creek, almost the entire cast is white and it swept. When shows like Dear White People, and I don’t know, all these other shows that have really great representation don’t even get thrown into the mix.”.
“It is interesting that [in] the actual categories, I feel like there is a greater push to have diversity in those which is good," explained Masters. "But when it comes to the overall shows and things like directing and stuff like that, I don’t think that it’s where it could be.”