Television Academy and Race: Resolution, or mere recognition?

It goes without saying that the Television Academy and acting industry is knuckling down on its internal social problems, and is making its efforts well-known. We only have to look at the Time’s Up campaign with impassioned speeches from key figures such as Oprah Winfrey which demonstrates how we as a society, and the Academy of Television, Arts and Science, still have a long way to go concerning race and inequality. So, the issues are in the process of being resolved, right? The utilisation of the speech platform to shed light on societal issues was nowhere to be seen at this year’s Emmy Awards (the least watched ceremony in its history) and the winners were predominantly white, despite its most diverse nominees list ever, which begs the question: the Academy may have recognised its issues concerning race and the lack of diversity demonstrated in award shows, but is it actively resolving them?

During the show, we were introduced to Haima Washington, who gave a speech representing the Television Academy and how the institution felt its issues were being addressed. Unlike many of the speeches throughout the show, Washington did address race and spoke about how the Academy felt they were headed in a more positive direction. It’s true that this year’s Emmy nominations were the most diverse, yet the fact that a huge number of winners were white contradicts the growing attitude that television has completely resolved its representation issues surrounding race. How far has it actually come if lack of diversity still poses a problem?

The majority of white winners aside, there was a historical nomination for the category of Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Killing Eve’s Sandra Oh was the first Asian actress nominated for this award, yet this immense historical moment was barely acknowledged during the ceremony. We all understand that not every actor or actress can win, however, credit must be given where credit is due. An Asian woman being nominated for a best leading actor award deserves celebration, and its lack of acknowledgement in the Emmy’s was simply inadequate, especially considering Oh’s incredible acting talent and stunning performance in Killing Eve this year. Maybe, the issue of representation of coloured actors still remains. Maybe the television academy simply isn’t doing enough. The Television Academy deems the problem as solved, yet the issue is staring them square in the face. Yes, the nominations were diverse, but recognition due to the people of colour in the industry is lacking.

Many of those present at the Emmys chose to deal with the issue in a light-hearted manner, with one of the presenters, comedian Michael Che, hosting his own ‘Remission Emmys’ to acknowledge coloured actors and actresses. Although a humorous addition to the otherwise lacklustre ceremony, the sketch further highlighted the vast number of actors of colour who failed to have their work recognised by the Academy. Why is it necessary to have them recognised separately to everyone else? Not to say that if there isn’t a 50/50 split concerning race amongst the winners in award shows that the show is immediately racist – this isn’t the case at all. But when there are only a select few non-white winners in a vast group of white winners, it suggests that the Academy is far from diverse, and far from having its problem resolved.

So, what do this year’s Emmys say about the Television Academy’s response to the lack of recognition for black actors and actresses? With its comedians and actors present at the Emmys light-heartedly joking about an issue which is far from being fully resolved and the minute number of non-white winners, viewers of the Emmys this year may consequently have wrestled with the idea of the acting world finally being a place where representation of all actors, regardless of race and ethnicity, has been achieved. Evidently, this is not the case. Despite the positive changes the industry has already achieved, change is a gradual process, and its actors need to understand how their platform can be utilised to further raise awareness for the issues which persist.


Megan Wall


Image: NBCUniversal