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How the 2021 Emmy Awards Sparked the Hashtag #EmmysSoWhite

The Emmy Awards is an annual ceremony that celebrates talents within various areas of television and emerging media. However, this year, despite the nomination of 49 people of color for acting/reality competition awards, the winners were all but diverse. This year’s award ceremony broke records, as this year hosted the most diverse nomination field in the show’s history. So, we are all left to wonder…what happened? Let’s talk about it.

On July 13, 2021, the official Emmy nominations were announced to the public. Of those 49 nominees previously mentioned, 43 were actors in the comedy, drama and limited-series categories – the highest number in the show’s history. This felt like a moment of change for many. Finally, fans felt representation within Hollywood projects and continued to celebrate this year’s award ceremony with great pride. The Emmys did not hesitate to highlight its upcoming nominees. Nominating fan favorites such as Billy Porter, a previous winner for his role in FX’s 2019 show “Pose,” recently deceased actor in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” Michael K. Williams, and “Saturday Night Live” stars Bowen Yang and Kenan Thompson. 

After all this celebrating, record-making and nominating, many of these diverse stars left the Emmys at the end of the night tired, disappointed and empty-handed. 

Despite the diversity within this year’s award ceremony, white actors ultimately won all 12 lead and supporting role nominations across the drama, comedy and limited-series categories. Netflix’s series “The Crown” was a force to be reckoned with as the cast dominated the drama category. Cast winners included actors such as Gillian Anderson, Olivia Colman, Josh O’Connor and Tobias Menzies. Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso” also had a successful night as they dominated the comedy category with winners Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein. While many were happy for the winners, this left many viewers in distaste as nominees of color seemed left out of the spotlight. 

Diversity, while prominent in this year’s ceremony, was not awarded until later in the night. The first non-white winners, the staff writers of “Last Week Tonight”, accepted their award an hour after the Emmys had begun. RuPaul was the first winner of color to speak as he was accepting the outstanding reality competition Emmy for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – at the 1-hour-and-52-minute mark of the Emmys’ broadcast. This was RuPaul’s 11th career Emmy, granting him the title of being the Emmys’ most decorated Black winner. Moments later, “I May Destroy You” creator Michaela Coel was the second of only three Emmy recipients of color to speak on stage as she accepted her award for outstanding writing in a limited series. This win made her the first Black woman to be awarded in this category. Acclaimed dancer, actress, writer, choreographer, director and producer, Debbie Allen, who was announced this year’s Governors Award honoree, was the third. This honor also made her the first woman of color to receive this award since the board’s establishment in 1978.

The night went on to briefly congratulate other winners of color including outstanding variety special (live) “Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020,” outstanding variety special (pre-recorded) “Hamilton,” and outstanding variety talk show “Last Week Tonight.”  

And just like that, the show was over. Fans were left in utter shock. I mean, what about all those other deserving nominees? So much more history could have been written right in front of our eyes. Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez were heavily expected to win lead actor and actress in the drama category for their roles in “Pose,” but lost to Josh O’Connor and Olivia Coleman for their roles in “The Crown.” Porter would have been the second Black man to win in this category twice. Olivia Colman’s co-star Emma Corrin would have been the first openly nonbinary actor to win in an acting category. 

Simply diversifying the Emmys guest list is not activism. It isn’t changing history. It isn’t representing the voices and work of Hollywood that deserve to be celebrated and heard. It ended up being just that: a nomination. We all have experienced that second-place pedestal. Of course, it was an honor to compete, but that taste of victory is just that much sweeter. History is still yet to be made here.

Shortly after the show’s ending, #EmmysSoWhite was trending on Twitter with many viewers criticizing the ceremony. 

While the memes and posts come flooding in, viewers are left waiting to see what will happen for years to come. There is an overwhelming amount of justice that the public has expressed needs to be confronted. On the brighter side, history among the nominees of color has been made, and history only continues to bring us a future of possibilities. Now viewers are left to wonder: What will next year’s Emmys bring?

Madison is a student at The University of Florida majoring in Journalism with a minor in Graphic Design. Madison is a positive individual who loves astrology, Harry Styles, and any kind of iced coffee. When she isn't writing, you can find her shopping for plants, playing Mariokart with her friends, and perfecting her strategies for making the perfect avocado toast.
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