With the combination of the social unrest, civic action and rising demand for the inclusion of marginalized voices on TV, many in Hollywood had their eyes on Monday morning’s Emmy nominations to see if the industry would reckon with its slow progress when it comes to representation. This year, Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma kicked off the nominations on Tuesday morning saying that we are currently in the “greatest fight for social justice” and it is the responsibility of TV to amplify “voices that must be heard.”
That said, as the fight for authentic representation in Hollywood continues, this morning’s nominations showed an uptick for people of color and the LGTBQ community in the major acting and hosting categories.
On the acting side, there were 36 actors of color nominated, while actors who have openly identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community took in 11 nominations. On the hosting side, six people of color were nominated while seven people who identified as LGBTQ+ received nods.
Of all the nominees from underrepresented voices, 15 were first-time nominees. It also should be noted that Maya Rudolph received two nominations in the Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series category while Sterling K. Brown received a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama and another for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy. Giancarlo Esposito scored two Emmy nominations in two different categories: one for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series and another for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series.
This is a major improvement from last year’s disappointing numbers which only saw 24 acting nominations for people of color and two reality show hosts of color that were nominated, which brought the total to 26. The tally for last year was a considerable stumble from 2018’s record-breaking 38 nominees, which 2020 has nearly matched on the acting side and surpassed in total.
In the category for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, Ramy star and co-creator Ramy Youssef earned his first Emmy nomination for acting (he also received a nomination for directing) and the show made history as the first Muslim American sitcom to be nominated for an Emmy. Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) and Don Cheadle (Black Monday) are mainstays in the category and received repeat nominations.
After being shut out last year in the category for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, Issa Rae is back with a nomination for her role in HBO’s Insecure. It’s the same story for Tracee Ellis Ross who received a nod for her role in Black-ish. Both women were nominated in 2018.
On the Lead Actor and Actress categories on the drama side, Zendaya scored her first Emmy nomination with her dramatic turn as Rue in HBO’s Euphoria. Sandra Oh also received her 11th Emmy nomination for her role in Killing Eve, a repeat nod from last year when she was also recognized for her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. Billy Porter was nominated for a second time for his work in Pose. He made history last year as the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy for his role as Pray Tell on the FX show. Sterling K. Brown received his fourth nomination in the category for his role as Randall Pearson on This Is Us — a trophy he won in 2017. Brown is also nominated in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy for his role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Jeremy Pope nabbed his first Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category for his role in Netflix’s Hollywood while Oscar winner Octavia Spencer took her first Emmy nomination in the category for her role in Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker, another Netflix series. Meanwhile, Regina King is looking to add another Emmy to her mantle as she was nominated for her turn as Angela Abar (aka Sister Night) on HBO’s Watchmen.
Last year, actors of color were completely shut out of the categories for Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Supporting Actress in a Comedy as well as Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. This year, it’s a different story.
William Jackson Harper welcomed his first Emmy nomination for his role as Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy category. He is joined by the aforementioned Brown for Mrs. Maisel, Andre Braugher for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Kenan Thompson for Saturday Night Live and Mahershala Ali for Ramy. Gay actor Dan Levy was nominated for Schitt’s Creek
Yvonne Orji of Insecure landed her first Emmy nomination for her role as Issa’s BFF Molly in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy category. The Academy also recognized Kate McKinnon for her consistent work on Saturday Night Live.
For Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series, Giancarlo Esposito earned one of two Emmy nominations with Better Call Saul while Jeffrey Wright was nominated for his role in HBO’s Westworld. On the actress side, Samira Wiley looks to win a second Emmy for her role in The Handmaid’s Tale while Thandie Newton eyes a trophy for her role in Westworld.
In the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, Watchmen ruled with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jovan Adepo scoring their first nominations. They were joined by their co-star Louis Gossett, Jr. Hollywood‘s Jim Parsons and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Tituss Burgess also received nominations.
Two-time Emmy winner Uzo Aduba is looking for a third with her nomination for Mrs. America in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie while Holland Taylor earns her eighth nomination for Hollywood.
Other inclusive nominees on this year’s Emmys nomination list include Dev Patel scoring his first nod in the Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series for his role in Modern Love. He is joined by Eddie Murphy, who was nominated for his hosting stint on Saturday Night Live.
In the Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series, Esposito earned his second nomination of the year for The Mandalorian while Ron Cephas Jones looks for another win for This Is Us.
For Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series there were many familiar faces receiving nominations including icon Cicely Tyson for How To Get Away With Murder, Laverne Cox for Orange is the New Black, Cherry Jones for Succession and Phylicia Rashad for This Is Us.
Angela Bassett’s comedic turn in A Black Lady Sketch Show earned her a nomination in the Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series alongside Wanda Sykes, who was nominated for her role as Moms Mabley in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Maya Rudolph who was nominated for The Good Place and Saturday Night Live.
For Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Competition Program, the Queer Eye crew received a nomination with Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France and Antoni Porowski receiving their first nods. This marks the third nom for fellow co-host Jonathan Van Ness who had been previously nominated for their Short Form Variety Series Gay of Thrones. Other first time nominees in the category included Nailed It! host Nicole Byer as well as Daymond John from Shark Tank. They are joined by fellow nominees, reigning Emmy winner in the category RuPaul Charles for RuPaul’s Drag Race and Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef.
Other notable nominees in the arena of inclusive storytelling and people include Robin Thede’s A Black Lady Sketch Show which was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series as well as Little Fires Everywhere, Mrs. America, Unbelievable, Unorthodox and Watchmen for Outstanding Limited Series. RuPaul’s Drag Race is once again nominated in multiple categories, while HBO’s We’re Here with Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’ Hara nabbed a nomination for its first season.
In the Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance category, Maya Rudolph received another nomination for her role in Big Mouth while Leslie Odom Jr. (Central Park), Wanda Sykes (Crank Yankers) and Taika Waititi (The Mandalorian) scored nominations.
In 2019, Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us provided the majority of nominees of color including Jharrel Jerome, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Marsha Stephanie Blake for Supporting Actress, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams and Asante Blackk.
Other nominees of color from last year included Pose‘s Billy Porter, Kumail Nanjiani for CBS All Access’ The Twilight Zone, Benicio del Toro for Escape from Dannemora and Mahershala Ali for True Detective.
Because of last year’s low number of nominees, 2019 saw only three people of color win Emmys in hosting and major acting categories which included RuPaul Charles for RuPaul’s Drag Race, Jharrel Jerome for When They See Us and Billy Porter for Pose. Porter made history as the first openly gay man to win an Emmy for a lead actor. For reality shows hosting front, RuPaul Charles was nominated for RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as Marie Kondo for Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, marking her first nomination.
As for last year’s LGBTQ representation, there were nominations in the acting and hosting categories. In addition to Porter, Cox, and Charles, Ben Whishaw was nominated for A Very English Scandal while SNL’s Kate McKinnon nabbed another nom and Ellen Degeneres received a nod for hosting Ellen’s Game of Games. Cherry Jones was also nominated for Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role in The Handmaid’s Tale. On top of all that, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette was nominated for two awards: Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) as well as Writing for a Variety Special. This is, of course, based on all of those who have openly identified as members of the LGBTQ community.
The uptick in Emmy nominations is a step forward, but could be better — a lot better. There is a lack of disabled and neurodiverse representation in the categories as well as people from other marginalized backgrounds such as Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and many other communities that have been overlooked. Only time will tell if this increase in inclusive nominees was the Academy’s reaction to a moment or a progressive move forward into an ongoing movement.