Diversity and the Emmys: a longstanding conversation

Diversity at the Emmys is up from last year but still not reflective of broader populations

A photo of Zendaya smiling while holding her Emmy

Monday’s 74th annual Primetime Emmy awards showed improvements in diversity from the previous year, but many are left to wonder if this is enough.

The award show honoring accomplishments in television, hosted by Saturday Night Live veteran Kenan Thompson, had a diverse group of presenters. However, of the 20 awards given out to individuals, only seven were awarded to people of color. Five of these seven winners were Black entertainers: Sheryl Lee Ralph, Bridget Stoke, Zendaya, Jerrod Carmichael and Quinta Brunson. The other two winners of color were South Korea’s Lee Jung-jae and Hwang Dong-hyuk from the Netflix show “Squid Game.”

Seventy-eight percent of nominees at the award ceremony were white, as well as 65% of winners. However, these demographics are not reflective of the diversity present in the nation’s top schools for acting and creative arts. The Juilliard School’s population is 33.8% white. While Yale, home to its renowned Department of Drama, has a population that is 38.1% white. USC’s student body reported being only 27.3% white.

A lack of diversity in Hollywood has been an ongoing conversation for years. In regards to the lack of representation at award shows such as the Emmys, Kalina Kirkbride, a sophomore at the USC School of Cinematic arts said, “We all expect it. At this point I think that the expectation is what’s unfortunate.” However, Kirkbride remains confident in her ability to get a job after graduation. “The number of diverse stories that are being told are much higher. There’s much more people that are being accepted into the industry and being given a voice.”

The categories featured in the televised Primetime Emmy ceremony are the awards for the industry’s biggest categories recognizing achievements in directing, writing, lead acting and support acting across the comedy, drama, variety specials and limited series genres.

At the Emmy awards, out of 145 individual nominees, Oscar Isaac was the only Latinx nominee. As Isaac did not win, there was no Latinx representation among the seven winners of color.

Aside from the historic win by “Squid Games,” which became the first non-English speaking show to win the top honors at the Emmys, there were no other winner Asian or Asian American winners. “I think we definitely need more Asain people [in Hollywood]… If I sit in the theater and the end credit is rolling, lots of the time I find myself [trying] really hard to find a name that is an Asian name or a Chinese name that I would feel proud of,” said Xiaowen “Daisy” Wu, a first year graduate student at SCA.

While a nominee pool composed of 22% people of color could be interpreted as progress, this is also in comparison to last year’s show which prompted the trending Twitter hashtag #emmyssowhite. Last year, all of the 12 major awards in acting were given to white actors, and of the 20 individual nominees, Michaela Coel was the only person of color to win an individual award during the televised show. Coel, a Black woman, won the award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.

Of the 145 nominees, only 32 are confirmed people of color. Many viewers took to social media to express how they felt after the spotlight was stolen from Quinta Brunson, creator of “Abbott Elementary.” In order to get to the microphone and accept her award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, Brunson had to walk over TV host Jimmy Kimmel, who was lying in front of the microphone. Kimmel’s stunt followed a skit between him and fellow actor Will Arnett prior to handing out the award.

“Nothing will happen to Jimmy Kimmel for stealing Quinta Brunson’s moment as the first Black woman to win a solo Emmy for writing on a show she created,” tweeted user Ola Ojewumi.

Zendaya became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for Lead Actress in a drama series twice. However, 12 of the categories had only one person of color nominated or none at all, with the most diversity coming from the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category. Five of the eight nominees in this category were men of color.

While strides have been made, the number of POC creatives being recognized at the Emmys is still not completely reflective of the populations of schools that feed into the entertainment industry or the broader society of consumers.