In the major acting categories, diverse winners was off to a slow start at the Creative Arts Emmys last week when Jane Lynch and Luke Kirby won for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel while Bradley Whitford and Cherry Jones won for The Handmaid’s Tale. If you include reality host in the mix, you can include RuPaul Charles as the first person of color to kick off the inclusive wins at this year’s Emmys — but it was one of the few for 2019.
Jones noted at last week’s Creative Arts Emmys that Phylicia Rashad (This Is Us) should have won — and even Cicely Tyson (How To Get Away With Murder) — should have won instead of her. Whether or not she was saying that the Academy should recognize these women of color who have been in the industry for decades is unknown, but she makes a good point as this year’s winners are very light.
This year, there were only 24 acting nominations for people of color. If you add two reality show hosts of color that were nominated that brings the total to 26. Compared to last year’s record 38, it was a very noticeable dip. And of those nominees from 2019, only three people of color won trophies in hosting and major acting categories: the aforementioned Charles, Jharrel Jerome for When They See Us, Billy Porter for Pose and…that’s the end of the list.
However, there were winners that identity as LGBTQ saw notable representation with Porter making history as the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for lead actor. Cherry Jones, Ben Winshaw and Jane Lynch also won trophies. Still, this still does not move the needle for people of color.
This comes after a promising 2018 where Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale), Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us), Tiffany Haddish (Saturday Night Live) and Katt Williams (Atlanta) swept the Guest Acting categories at the Creative Arts Emmys while Regina King (Seven Seconds), Thandie Newton (Westworld) and Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story) took home trophies at the Primetime Emmys. That is a total of seven Emmys for major acting categories — eight if you include RuPaul Charles’ hosting win from last year. This pales in comparison to this year’s three wins.
This low number was unfortunately expected. When the number of diverse nominees in the major acting categories is so low, it’s inevitable that the number of diverse winners would be just as much — or little depending how you look at it.
Ava DuVernay’s Netflix limited series When They See Us which seemed like a favorite going into this Emmys considering its gripping retelling of the story of the Central Park Five — now the Exonerated Five. The series brought in the most nominations for people of color with nods for Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Marsha Stephanie as well as John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams and newcomer Asante Blackk. It also earned a Best Limited Series nomination.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned actors and the series didn’t walk away with Emmys. However, DuVernay’s timely series resonates and will remain an important story that will transcend awards. In addition, a major silver lining was Jerome’s win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his dramatic turn as the real-life Korey Wise. It was a first-time nomination for the actor and first-time win. With this and Porter’s groundbreaking win, people of color took poignant and important wins, but Emmys failed to make the grade when it came to diversity and inclusion.