The 2018 Emmy Awards Far From Solved Hollywood's Diversity Issue

On Monday, the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards aired live on NBC and I followed along on Twitter under my desk during a Monday evening Communications class. On Tuesday, I sat down to watch the show on Hulu, one day later than everyone else, blissfully, with no commercials.

As a lover of all things entertainment, especially television, watching awards shows has become one of my favorite pastimes. In the years since the #OscarsSoWhite and #TimesUp movements, Hollywood has faced enormous pressure from the entertainment community, the media, and the public to foster diversity in all areas of production. As a way to address the issue of diversity, or lack-there-of, the 2018 Emmy hosts, producers and directors made the ill-advised decision to build the show’s theme around diversity. Although this move was strategic in the way it was translated throughout the telecast, based on the lineup of nominees, presenters, and winners, I don’t believe the Academy of Television got the memo.

The 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards began with a humorous, yet uncomfortable, musical number staring, Kate McKinnon, Keenan Thompson, Kristen Bell, Sterling K Brown, Ricky Martin, Tituss Burgess, John Legend, RuPaul and, briefly, Andy Samberg. The performance, called “We Solved It," was a cheery, satirical commentary on the "we’ve come a long way" conceptual Band-Aid that many people tend to slap on the topic of representation. Throughout the song, performers referenced the attention being drawn to the few shows telling more diverse stories and poked fun at the tokenizing nature of the industry by deploying a dance group they named the “One of Each” dancers (one dancer of each race) dressed in a rainbow of La La Land-esque costumes.

I can confirm: the intro had humor. It was funny, only to the credit of the writers and performers of the song; it was a perfect lineup of talented comedians and entertainers. However the message itself was uncomfortable. Underrepresented communities do not want to hear jokes about how they are underrepresented. The entertainment industry has been doing this for years and during this decisive time, the bit has honestly gotten old.

The same goes for the evening’s hosts. Colin Jost and Michael Che essentially delivered a two hour long extension of their SNL "Weekend Update" segment, complete with a dry delivery of sad realities set to a laugh track that’s meant to lighten the mood for the next joke.

About 30 minutes into my commercial-less viewing, I couldn't shake my discomfort in the more obvious oversight of representation during the show. Between the opening number, the hosts’ introduction and the first few award categories, not one woman of color had even touched the stage so far. I hoped during an opening number about diversity, there would be an effort to feature the widest range of diversity possible. Instead, we saw two white women, six men of color, two gay men and a straight white man. Sandra Oh, the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the lead actress category, was featured during the opening, but only as a prop to deliver a punchline from the audience.

To say the least, the overall presentation of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards was disappointing. But let’s take a look at the winners: 

The majority of Emmy winners were white men and when they weren't men, they were still white. Of the 20 individual primetime categories, only three winners were people of color, Regina King, Thandie Newton, and Darren Criss, all of whom seemed genuinely unsuspecting and demonstrated in their acceptance that the odds were not in their favor. The 2018 Emmy Awards certainly did not “solve it” and based on the outcomes and approach to the issue during the award show, this year was not a step forward in the effort to increase diversity.

Representation matters in all industries. In the last 60 years we have made progress by including different people from all walks of life in the work we do and the stories we tell. However, in the entertainment industry especially, the stories and voices that we share have the power to impact our societies and and start conversations that foster connectivity instead of divisiveness. Award shows like the Emmy's, and the industry they promote, must do better. 


(Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)