Emmy Award nominations not as progressive as they seem

TV awards stalling despite new diversity milestones

A female Emmy Award in a sea of male Emmy Awards.
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If you’ve heard anything about this year’s Emmy Award nominations, it’s probably been centered around the idea of progress.

Voted upon collectively by the Television Academy, some have publicly commended the awards for their unusually diverse set of nominations. The fanfare isn’t unwarranted. 

Sandra Oh made history by becoming the first Asian-American nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama in the award ceremony’s 70-year history. Three new shows broke their way into the Outstanding Comedy race—rest in peace, eight years of consecutive Modern Family nominations. Even better, five of the eight nominated comedy series were created or co-created by women and people of colour.

These achievements are undoubtedly reasons for celebration, as recognizing a diverse group of talent on a massive platform increases minority visibility and opens doors for other underrepresented hopefuls in the entertainment industry. 

The well-received comedy nominations—which also recognized first-time people of colour nominees Issa Rae, Zazie Beetz, and Tiffany Haddish—understandably seems like a breath of fresh air for the Emmys. But across the road, at the drama nominations’s camp, you’re likely to find the same stale air the awards have been inhaling since the ’80s. 

Every show nominated for Outstanding Drama Series was created by a white person, specifically—with the exception of Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy—white men. The eight dramas up for the award have also already been nominated by the Academy within the last two years. 

But drama isn’t the only category stuck in its old ways. 

The Academy nominated the same seven shows for Outstanding Reality Competition Program as they did last year. Outstanding Variety Talk Series recognized all but one of last years’ nominated shows, with 66 per cent of them created by white men. All eight of the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series nominees are white; six are repeat nominees and seven are men.

The repetition and lack of diversity plaguing these categories doesn’t mean the nominees are undeserving. It does, however, signal a long-standing issue of voters shutting out equally deserving, new, or diverse nominees in favour of what they already know.

Killing Eve, the Sandra Oh-starring BBC America drama, was the most consistently shocking and darkly comedic show on air this year. An Outstanding Drama Series nomination would’ve also recognized its female powerhouse creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. 

Jane the Virgin—which is also created by a woman, follows a Latinx family, and topped many TV critics’ ‘Best Of’ lists—was also unjustly snubbed from the ceremony. 

This year’s Emmy nominations took a step in the right direction in that they’re diversifying their nominees more than they ever have. We can’t, however, let that one step distract us from how outdated the awards remain, particularly in their repeated recognition of older shows created by white people.  

Seeing diverse creators awarded for sharing their underrepresented perspective would have a much larger impact on future generations of the entertainment industry than Game of Thrones winning Best Drama for the third time.

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