Six months after #Oscarssowhite upset the biggest movie awards in the world, television’s Emmy lineup is telling a different, far more colorful, story.
Some 21 actors across the ethnic spectrum have been nominated for Emmys this year. For the first time in the 68-year history of the biggest honors in television, men of color were nominated in all six lead actor categories.
It does not end there. Emmy organizers have showered nominations on shows like “Mr. Robot,” starring Egyptian-American Rami Malek as a socially awkward hacker; African-American family sitcom “black-ish”; “Master of None,” created by actor Aziz Ansari and his Asian-American writing partner Alan Yang; and FX’s marathon recreation of the 1995 O.J. Simpson double murder trial seen through the prism of modern U.S. race relations.
“Bravo to the Television Academy and the TV industry overall for showing the rest of the industry the way,” said Gil Robertson, president of the African-American Film Critics Association.
“They are responding to their audiences. They have clearly paid attention and are showing respect to the diverse population groups they serve. That is smart business,” Robertson added.
Part of the greater diversity in television is due to the sheer number of scripted shows – currently around 400 – now available on mainstream networks, cable and streaming platforms like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. Television also has a quicker turnaround time than movies, which can take years from development to reach theaters.
Freed from the demands of advertisers on the new platforms, producers are taking risks with content and casting, and mainstream television is taking notice both in front of, and crucially, behind the camera.
Not Your Grandparents’ Wizard of Oz
New shows in the 2016-17 TV season starting next week include HBO’s “Insecure,” about a friendship between two African-American women created by and starring former YouTube personality Issa Rae; black actor Corey Hawkins in the lead role once played by Kiefer Sutherland in Fox’s “24:Legacy,” ABC’s color-blind post-Romeo and Juliet story “Still Star-Crossed,” and NBC’s “Emerald City.”
Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment, said “Emerald City” was a global endeavor, powered by Indian director and producer Tarsem Singh. The cast includes Latina Adria Arjona in the role of Dorothy and Ugandan Florence Kasumba as East in the modern reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Tarsem embraced this idea that the show was completely diverse, and he really wanted that world to be unexpected and surprising and to embrace people of all places.
“We have never really embarked on quite that level of world building and it’s a completely new place you’ve never been before. It’s not your grandparents’ Wizard of Oz,” Salke said.
Like many of the big TV companies, NBC has a range of diversity programs going back 16 years. Alumni include actress and writer Mindy Kaling; “Master of None” co-creator Alan Yang; and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, the Latina executive producer behind “The Carmichael Show” about a modern black family.
Latina actresses Jennifer Lopez and America Ferrara are hands-on producers as well as stars of NBC cop drama “Shades of Blue” and multi-ethnic comedy “Superstore,” Salke noted.
Nevertheless, much remains to be done. A report this week by the Directors Guild of America found that ethnic minorities had directed just 19 percent of episodes from 299 scripted TV series the report examined in the 2015 TV season, up just 1 percent from the prior year.
Professor Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, which compiles a wider annual Hollywood report, said people of color were still “woefully under-represented” in writers’ rooms and elsewhere behind the camera.
“That’s where the stories are conceptualized and the ideas are generated which lead to casting decisions,” Hunt said.