Little Diversity Among Past Emmy Winners

Ray Richmond is a contributor to AwardsLine

One of the dirty little secrets that haunts the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is its woeful (some might even say shameful) track record in honoring African-American actors and actresses with Emmy Awards. Consider that were Giancarlo Esposito of AMC’s Breaking Bad to win this year for supporting actor in a drama series, or the mixed-race Maya Rudolph to take the comedy guest actress prize for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, they would become the first black performers to win in their respective categories ever. Similarly, if Don Cheadle triumphs in the lead actor in a comedy race for his work in the Showtime half-hour House of Lies, he’d become only the second African-American in history to win in that category.

In fact, the four lead comedy actor/actress and supporting comedy actor/actress races have found African-American performers winning Emmys a grand total of four times–once in each category. Combining the victories for black actors and actresses in all 16 performing categories throughout the 63-year history of the Primetime Emmys results in 35, or roughly 5% of the total number of statuettes handed out.

Of the 94 nominations in the 16 primary categories for performers this year–including lead, supporting, and guest actor/actress in both comedies and dramas as well as lead and supporting actor/actress in a movie/miniseries–a mere five went to African-Americans. Besides Esposito, Rudolph, and Cheadle, the others are Idris Elba (lead actor in a movie/mini for Luther on BBC America) and Loretta Devine (guest actress in a drama for ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy).

Why the spotty history? TV Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum says that it isn’t an issue of voter prejudice but a problem with the TV business itself. “I think it’s a concern for the industry”, he says. “It starts with the number of qualified performers on each of the shows at the pilot stage. It begins in the first year of a show, and I think it’s incumbent upon all of us at both the networks and the studios to take a look at how to expand the number of diverse individuals both in front of and behind the camera”.

  1. Why is diversity a synonym for black? Why don’t we just lament the fact that anybody who’s not a white male gets pretty much shafted by the academy?

    1. I agree with you . I think there are in general far too few roles for latino actors. The reason I think the writers choose to highlight black actors is because they are the majority of the minority. There are more african american roles than there are latino roles, and there are far too few (good) african american

      I don’t think one should nominate actors because they are black or latino simply to fill some undefined quota. I do however think it’s disgraceful that The Wire never did get the kind of attention that Breaking Bad or Mad Men gets.

    2. El Gorcho, I’m African-American and I agree with you 100%. It’s everybody. As bad as it is for us, it’s worse if you’re Asian or Hispanic. CBS, NBC, CW, Fox have zero shows about non-whites. Yet you’ll always here some white person, probably on this board, say “What about BET? We don’t have White Entertainment Television!” Well, what is it when every show on all the networks is about white people? And this happens for years at a time.

  2. It’s still shocking that not one of the predominately black cast of The Wire ever got a nomination. Seriously? How is that not a racial bias?

  3. They had the chance to nominate the amazing Kerry Washington and totally went for bullsh*t like nominating Lena Dunham for acting. But this is the organization that NEVER recognized The Wire. Nothing is more telling than that

    1. Here, here on “The Wire”, a travesty for being overlooked time and again by the Emmy Gods (and, presumably, Goddesses!!!). I think Hollywood is very uncomfortable dealing with the flagging diversity in its ranks. Even this blog, as groundbreaking as it is, deletes posts dealing with the topic. I sure understand people being defensive and touchy on the issue but this issue, folks, is REAL. A small digression: I often wonder how diverse Nikki’s writing and editorial staff is…. Sometimes it takes having a diverse staff to point out the bigger systemic problems in an industry that would otherwise go unaddressed.

  4. Whites don’t even want to admit anyone else exists in their industry’s projects, let alone people stuck in America’s worst neighborhoods. Why would they watch a show about walk of life they’ve tried their hardest to ignore and then turn around & give it awards? Downton Abbey and Mad Men are perfect throwbacks to a time when the rest of us knew our place.

  5. So, an emmy should be given to African-American actors because they are African-American? If so, I’m not sure about Maya Rudolph getting an emmy. She’s only part African-American…not quite black enough. Oh, what a slippery slide…

    1. Congratulations on completely missing the point of the piece. No one should recieve anything on the basis of their race.

      But Emmys problem is more an industry problem than an Emmy problem. But there is great work out there by people of all races that don’t get recognized by the Emmys for whatever reason.

    2. @anon, Did you skip primary school? The article isn’t stating “these actors should get an award”, surely isn’t suggesting “they should based on skin tone.” As well, the article pointedly refers to Maya’s “mixed race”.
      Deadline, is offering us, statistical history on the Emmy’s choices, using [the above 2012] nominations as factors.
      You have to be sleepwalking or incapable of reading, in order to suggest otherwise.

    3. No one is saying that. But the Emmy board have said that Girls is more noteworthy of award recognition than The Wire. It speaks volumes.

  6. The Emmys have no interest in awarding minorities, particularly African-Americans, no matter how well they’ve performed in they’re respective projects, and quite frankly, as an African-American producer I could not care less. The Emmys, the Oscars, the Blah blah blahs, they’re all meaningless to me, just a bunch of old White men sitting around tables incessantly jerking off to the sounds of their own voices. We are entering a new age where these types of “accolades” are not only becoming irrelevant, but most creators and consumers are beginning to see them as a completely unnecessary waste of broadcast airtime.

    1. True, DJ. I think these awards shows are meaningless except for the publicity (read: potential sales) they generate for the shows/films in question. But small nitpick – the article refers to Maya Rudolph as “mixed race” then refers to her as black two seconds later. If she’s mixed race, she’s not black, just like she’s not white. For that matter, isn’t Giancarlo mixed? Black and hispanic? If the answer is yes, wouldn’t that make him the first hispanic actor to win as best supporting actor in a drama series?

    2. That’s the deal, Digital Johnny. The Old Hollywood Club doesn’t know it’s becoming more irrelevant by the day. New ‘clubs’ are cropping up everywhere, and they’re more diverse, hip and cutting edge.

      I’ll see you out there. Save me a seat!

    3. I could not agree with you more. You nailed it. As the baby boomer generation fades out (sorry boomers), each generation that comes after will give less and less of a f*ck.

  7. This is the same song sung year after year and it is obivious “they” will never acknowledge or give those actors and actresses the accolades deserved. Though sad it is the truth they first off don’t have enough diverse programming of African Americans. Thousands of African scripts flood those studios worth their grain of salt but they are in piles of garbage. The same with actresses and actors they rather hire some chick with fake blinked,fake booty and a smile for reality Tv versus someone who has study the craft. Of course it is unfair but riddle me this? When has “Hollywood” ever been fair to African Americans in film and television?

  8. Giancarlo Esposito is mixed raced like Maya Rudolph. Generally Black Americans (and maybe the gays) are the ones who have historically stood up and acted as the “check & balance” for white (male) ridiculousness while Asians, Native Americans, Latin/Hispanics kind of sneak through allowing white people to continue toss in the “they’re playing the race card.” Meanwhile all of the cards and the game are owned by and are in the hand of the whites just as Emmy votes. They just cannot play fair or share. In 20 years network television and cinema will be so unimportant – as it stands the red carpet has become more important than the event. Lena Dunham – I don’t get it? It’s like watching king size hotel bed sheets – white.

  9. If we want to be completely progressive shouldn’t we combine the actor/actress categories into best lead thespian and supporting thespian? We don’t give out best male and female director or male and female writer awards.

  10. I was shocked when I found out they didn’t nominate the best female performance of the year which is Regina King in “Southland”. She was miles better than Christina Hendricks but yet she was nominated, Regina was not.

  11. THIS. Let me tell you something, when the committees of these awards shows are continually exposed to be packs of 60+ year old white guys, they become much less relevant to anyone outside of the industry. And we shouldn’t be thinking of diversity just in terms of black representation. I mean, Asians and Middle Eastern people have it ROUGH, too.

  12. The entertainment industey is composed almost exclusively of tolerant, progressive people – not the sort who would participate in a grand racist conspiracy. Minorities are over represented in roles when compared to real demographics; if the industry were racist, how could that be? Lots of deserving actors haven’t gotten nods or won awards, but that doesn’t mean they were victims of (insert favorite prejudice). Dragging out the racial boogeyman in the context of award ceronies is a tired exercize that is neither accurate no beneficial.

  13. I like House of Lies, but Cheadle isn’t great, hes ok. Now Luther star Idris Elba who was nominated was amazing. Nobody seems to know he was nominated and that was far superior work .

  14. Enough. This is racism again white people. Black people have it good today. Listen to Adam Carolla. It’s never equal. Today the scales favor blacks and the white is minority.

    1. Come on Lisp,

      Adam Carolla? Please tell me you’re kidding. Carolla is an ignorant, braying ass. His clueless rant against Occupy Wall Street proves that. He thinks whites are the minority because all he watches is sports and thinks that’s the world. If whites are the minority, then do me a favor. Count all the shows on all the networks that are about white people, then count the ones that aren’t. Come back and tell me whites are the minority, okay? You know what, I just realized you’re being sarcastic. Never mind.

  15. I think that, if you read, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, actors create TV and film projects from the ether, with one producer and one director per project, and maybe one writer worth mentioning for every five projects.

    Of course, set designers, makeup artists, caterers, lighting people, sound people, editors are completely irrelevant. If they were relevant, wouldn’t the trade pubs mention them?

  16. I wish Damon Wayans Jr. had been nominated for supporting actor in a comedy. He is so funny on Happy Endings. Did Modern Family really deserve four noms in that category?

  17. The way to further legitimize and examine this problem would be to somehow (culling IMDB?) develop a census of working minority actors and actress (and writers, sure) in Hollywood, and then compare that to the awards ratios. IF (and I’m not saying this is the case) 5% of the groups in question are minority, and they represent 5% of awards, then there’s actually NOT an issue. If (as I suspect) the minority ratio is much higher than the awards ratio, then you have other questions – what’s the minority representation in lead and strong supporting roles (which often lead to awards), how many award recipients are the children of industry insiders (nepotism), etc.

    The awards are probably imbalanced, but it may often be that minority entertainers are not being cast or employed, or given good roles, or that nepotism or other factors are working to retard a natural increase in diversity in Hollywood.

  18. Not to be pedantic (here follows pedantic comment), but Idris Elba isn’t African American, he’s British.
    Secondly, I really don’t know what we’re supposed to do with the information in this article, it’s not exactly breaking news. Roll up roll up, Emmy board doesn’t care about black people…

  19. Twenty years later and the Industry is still passing the buck” “It’s the networks, no, the studios, no, it’s the Academy”. Really, people?
    Same old tired lines…”Diversity is important to us, we need to do more, we need to do better” blah, blah blah!

  20. 90% of white people are too busy worrying about surviving to give a damn about race and diversity (I don’t mean that as a negative towards white people).

    1. Most definitely a negative. In other words, don’t rock the boat especially if you’re in it. Don’t speak up even if you know it’s wrong just like in Penn State.

  21. They hire themselves, they nominate themselves, they celebrate themselves. Its a circle jerk industry that keeps the money in a very tight circle. Move on.

  22. How about we create a special category for all awards shows. We can call it “come get an award for the color of your skin”…fair enough? Oh hell, still not good enough? Alright then how about an entire awards show that hands out awards based on race? Oh wait, there’s already a few of those. NAACP image awards, Latino image awards…I could go on but as I’m fond of saying, I doubt anyone’s listening anyway.

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