Home Media #EmmysSoWhite and the persistent ignoring of Black entertainment

#EmmysSoWhite and the persistent ignoring of Black entertainment

This large Emmy Award Statue stands in front of The Academy of Television and Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood, California.
ID 148881702 © Marie Elena Sager | Dreamstime.com

With #EmmysSoWhite trending at the end of the ceremony, it’s safe to say this year’s Emmys were a bit of a disappointment. Despite a record-breaking number of actors and creators of color being nominated, they were by and large not the ultimate recipients of the coveted statuettes.

#EmmysSoWhite echoes the complaints that arose in the aftermath of the 2015 Academy Awards. Modeled after the hashtag created by April Reign — who was then a campaign finance lawyer and Twitter-aficionado — to condemn the Academy for giving none of the 20 nominations in the acting categories to an actor of color, #EmmysSoWhite critiques the Emmys for overlooking the actors and creators of color who were nominated in favor of their white counterparts. 

The situation begged the question just how much progress has Hollywood actually made? And whether these people of color were nominated as a means of scoring diversity points rather than a genuine consideration of their talents in writing, directing, and performing?

Twitter users were quick to condemn the Emmys for their recurrent mistreatment of people of color with one Twitter user posting.

Another criticized the Emmys claims of diversity throughout the show just for no people of color, in particular, Black people being honored.

Another Twitter user denounced the Emmys for praising and highlighting stories that have already been told several times over.

The Emmys seemed to be willing to profit off of a rhetoric of diversity and inclusion by including a variety of content that appealed and included Black audiences without actually putting their money where their mouth is.

One of the few redeeming moments of the night was Michaela Coel’s win for I May Destroy You. Coel acted, directed, and starred in the series and walked away with an Emmy for best writing in a limited series. She dedicated her award to survivors of sexual assault as the series recounts the experiences of a twenty-something writer who was sexually assaulted and has no recollection of the night it happened. Coel’s win was but one of few high points in the night as the Emmys were another in a long run of disappointing awards shows occurring during the coronavirus pandemic.

The success of the show Watchmen at last year’s Emmys had left many hopeful that this year’s program would further the progress made. Watchmen took home four awards at last year’s Emmys but 2021’s results shut that tenuous progress down.

One favorite that many felt was snubbed was HBO heavyweight Lovecraft Country. The series is set in 1950s Jim Crow America and was nominated for a whopping six awards but won none.

But this flagrant disregard for people of color at the most premier award shows is nothing new, it’s embedded into the entertainment industry and its history. In one of Hollywood’s most heinous acts of disrespect, Hattie McDaniel was forced to accept her statuette from a table set in a corner of a segregated hotel in L.A. 

The disregard for her talent started even earlier, with McDaniel having to advocate for herself to even be submitted for a nomination for best-supporting actress in spite of numerous critics lauding her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. She was then type cast as the sassy Mammy archetype for the rest of her career and her Oscar was deemed valueless. The most egregious derision of McDaniel was their refusal to honor her last wish to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery because she was Black. 

Black film critic and screenwriter Jourdain Searles acknowledged a broader problem that has persisted throughout the years.
Do the Right Thing (1989) wasn’t nominated for best picture or best director. It was nominated for best screenplay and best supporting actor (for the white actor Danny Aiello) but didn’t win either award. Eve’s Bayou (1997), Malcolm X (1992), Dead Presidents (1995), Daughters of the Dust (1991), and Antwone Fisher (2002) are all films that deserved multiple Oscar nominations. And regarding the 2010s, I always think about Selma (2014) and Creed (2015) not getting nearly enough of the accolades they deserved,” she said.

Specific to the Emmys, Emma Plowe, a writer for the Cornell Daily Sun, identified a larger problem: a disregard for Black talent that isn’t tied to trauma or drama. She identified an inability for the Academy to relate to these Black actors that take on a more comedic role or persona and describes a willingness to “nominate Black comedians, but [a failure] to truly recognize their excellence.”

She continued to describe this unwillingness to award Black actors for their work in comedy as a reflection of resistance to understand the Black experience on more than a one-dimensional level, a refusal to work to better understand Black America. This can be connected to issues surrounding trauma porn, and the excess of slave narratives, and series like Them that profit and exploit Black misery. 

With all the nuances to issues surrounding the recognition of Black talent by what are considered the most prestigious bodies in entertainment, it is clear that we have far to go before Black talent and creativity are wholly respected and recognized.

Sam Stewart
Sam Stewart
Sam Stewart is a Culturas writing intern. She is currently a junior studying Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California. Her passion for film and media has made her particularly passionate about issues at the intersection of race and entertainment.
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