We rarely notice how astonishingly white the Emmy series acting categories are unless they set a milestone for minorities like today, when Kerry Washington of ABC’s red-hot sophomore Scandal was nominated as lead actress in a drama series and House Of Lies‘ Don Cheadle repeated as best actor in a comedy series nominee. (There was only one other Black actor among all acting Emmy nominees, Alfre Woodard for her supporting role in the Lifetime movie Steel Magnolias.) Washington became the first Black actress in almost two decades, since Cicely Tyson in 1995 for Sweet Justice, to land a lead drama actress Emmy nomination. When Cheadle earned his first nom for Showtime’s House Of Lies last year, he was the first Black actor nominated in the category in a decade, since Bernie Mac in 2003 for The Bernie Mac Show. How rare is it for Black actors to break into the lead series categories? In the lead actor in a drama field we need to go back to 2001 (Andre Braugher for Gideon’s Crossing. He won the category for Homicide in 1998), and for lead actress in a comedy series all the way to 1986 (Phylicia Rashad for The Cosby Show). That makes today’s accomplishment by Washington and Cheadle even more remarkable because I couldn’t find an instance when two Black actors have received lead series acting nominations in the same year, at least in the past several decades. And the two may not stop there. Cheadle is coming off a Golden Globe win for best actor in a comedy series, while Washington is riding the tidal wave of success of Scandal, which is coming off a breakout second season. Could the two repeat the feat of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry who defied the odds at the Academy Awards, also dominated by white performers, to both win lead acting Oscars in the same year (2002)?
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