The Emmy Awards Failed To Award Any Actors Of Color In Its 12 Main Categories And It’s Sparked A Huge Debate About “Performative Diversity” And White Privilege

·7 min read

No actors of color were awarded major trophies during last night’s 73rd Emmy Awards ceremony, despite the most racially diverse field of nominees in its history.

Viewers were left disappointed — but perhaps not surprised — after white actors swept all 12 lead and supporting acting categories in Sunday’s ceremony, with shows like The Crown and Ted Lasso dominating across the board.

This comes after performers of color made up 44% of the spots in the acting nominations for the very first time in Emmy history, seemingly marking a gradual but steady increase in diversity.

But sadly, the Television Academy failed to capitalize on its historic list of nominees, with strong contenders like Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, SNL’s Bowen Yang, and the late Michael K. Williams all ultimately losing out.

And despite history-making wins for Black artists like RuPaul and Michaela Coel, the night was elsewhere filled with near misses for both performers of color and the LGBTQ+ community.

Category frontrunner Mj Rodriguez was expected to make history as the first-ever transgender performer to win a trophy for leading female actor for her role in the final season of Pose, but she ultimately lost out to The Crown’s Olivia Colman.

And so with this year’s field of nominees offering such promise, viewers swiftly began questioning why the Emmys only went as far as to reflect inclusivity in their nods, but not the night’s major winners.

And after being slammed for “fake diversity” in previous years, it was evident to viewers that the producers went to great lengths to keep the live ceremony diverse — with Cedric the Entertainer taking on the main hosting job, DJ Reggie Watts spinning tracks by the likes of Notorious B.I.G. and Run DMC, and an array of racially diverse presenters.

Although, just like the list of nominees, the Emmy Awards' efforts to promote inclusivity on the night felt to many like an empty gesture, in light of its failure to actually celebrate and acknowledge people of color in its winners.

“Attempting to increase diversity by having POC as host and 90% of the presenters, but only giving awards to white folks isn’t a great look for the #Emmys,” someone wrote on Twitter, calling out the surface-deep nature of the Emmys’ inclusivity. “The old ‘let’s try to fix our diversity problem without challenging the power structure’ trick.”

“What bothers me the most are the people stating that we should be happy with the host and so many characters and shows being diverse. But if they're not winning and they are GOOD SHOWS THAT SHOULD what's the point,” another added. “It's all performative.”

And the seemingly hollow attempts at diversity throughout the night’s proceedings did not go unnoticed by viewers, with many in agreement that the Emmys' efforts of inclusivity felt “performative.”

“So, despite some PHENOMENAL nominees, the emmys basically used black people and poc as window dressing/the help and gave all of the awards to white people,” someone wrote. “DEEP SIGH…just like that juneteenth holiday, it’s all performative, not substantive!”

Another added that the Academy’s failure to honor people of color with the major awards only serves to reinforce the need for award shows that celebrate Black artists, writing: “I want to thank the Emmys for making it very very very very clear that despite all the sparkly performative diversity, Black awards shows are still very much needed.”

But perhaps the most recurring response to the Emmys' failure to celebrate performers of color was a sense of frustration and tiredness with an industry that consistently fails to learn and take action when hit with criticism over its lack of diversity.

In recent years, the entertainment industry's most prestigious award shows, including the Emmys and Oscars, have been repeatedly called out for failing to credit and reward actors of color, with the backlash resulting in hashtags like #EmmysSoWhite.

“So we’re back to — and always will be — #EmmysSoWhite,” tweeted Preston Mitchum, the director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project.

Many fans expressed their frustration with the industry's apparent failure to learn from criticism, suggesting that the system in place has always been rooted in “promoting white supremacy.”

“Again, Black folks aren't winning white awards; At this point why do we keep thinking they are not going to be racist 'this year'? We put faith in a system that has ALWAYS been about promoting white supremacy,” they wrote. “Fool me once... Fool me 72 times…”

“#Emmys do this every year: Nominate a diverse selection of our faves, only to give them to the same white actors and/or stories,” agreed another viewer. “Middle-aged white folks in conflict or British period pieces will win over nuanced, multi-dimensional plots involving characters of color.”

And the sentiment that the Academy should start tackling diversity from the inside out, swapping caution and familiarity for progression and action, was subtly echoed by one of the night's biggest winners, Michaela Coel.

“Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn't comfortable,” she said during her acceptance speech for Oustanding Writing for a Limited Series. “I dare you.”

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