Diversity in the Emmys: A Night of Firsts

Time and time again, award shows have received backlash for a severe lack of diversity in their recipient pools. This is especially the case among the most prominent and prestigious award categories, the ones that receive the most coverage in the press. 

However, The 69th annual Emmys proved otherwise. The television-based award show showcased more people of color than ever before. All eyes were on Lena Waithe, lead actress on the Netflix hit Master of None, when she became the first black woman to secure the Emmy for comedy writing. The award was shared with series creator and esteemed comedian, Aziz Ansari. 

The award recognized the show’s “Thanksgiving” episode, in which Waithe’s character, Denise, realizes that she’s a lesbian and later comes out to her family. Its masterful portrayal of intersectionality – the overlap between Denise’s black, female, and homosexual identities – attracted a great deal of acclaim from critics and fans alike. Master of None as a whole is also recognized for doing that same type of work, for centering underrepresented minority narratives and sharing them as truthfully as possible.

Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim and South-Asian actor to be awarded the Emmy for best actor based on his performance in the HBO drama Night Of. In his acceptance speech, Ahmed expressed uneasiness towards “reaping the rewards of a story that’s based on real world suffering,” namely Islamophobia and the internment system. However, he was grateful for the mere opportunity to shed light on these issues in a setting like The Emmys, with millions of people watching and listening.

Atlanta star Donald Glover took home two Emmys, one for Outstanding Director in a Comedy Series and one for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He was the first black director to win in the former, and the first black actor in 32 years to win in the latter. Sterling Brown received the prize for best actor in a drama, his second consecutive Emmy.

And finally, Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin were recognized for their spot-on portrayals of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the iconic Presidential Debate skits on Saturday Night Live. Considering our country’s volatile social and political climate, it was refreshing to see satire take center stage for a change, even if it was just for a little while.

It’s becoming increasingly important to celebrate minority voices whenever we can, and entertainment is a great platform on which to do so. The media plays such a massive role in shaping our beliefs and prejudices, so major props go out to the Emmys for steering the film and TV ship in the right direction this year.