Before it even started, the 2021 Emmys seemed like it was set to put diversity on the back burner. With leading nomination totals from Ted Lasso (13), The Crown (11) and The Handmaid’s Tale (11), the ceremony promised to focus on shows with predominantly white casts (and creative teams). It didn’t take long for that prophecy to become a reality. The first 15 winners of the night were white, with even unexpected victors like Mare of Easttown and Hacks sending white folks to the podium. Diversity at an awards show, once again, was largely for optics.
While the Emmys were hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, featured several presenters of color (including Kerry Washington, Bowen Yang, Taraji P. Henson, Ken Jeong, and the Native American cast of Reservation Dogs) and, per a study from The Undefeated, featured more Black acting nominees than in the past, the ceremony seemed to only scratch the surface when it came to actually awarding people of color. And the lack of representation in the winners’ pool didn’t go unnoticed.
More than midway through the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race took Best Competition Series, finally bringing the night’s first winner of color to the podium. Later, I May Destroy You‘s Michaela Coel was recognized for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series, and Hamilton took home the award for Outstanding Variety Special. But most of the evening was spent watching people of color present awards to their white counterparts. And while Television Academy head Frank Scherma presented the Governors Award to dancer, choreographer, actress, writer and director Debbie Allen — the first Black woman to receive that honor — his introductory speech crowing about diversity was particularly jarring in light of the night’s events.
Despite a few much-deserved wins, the Emmys seem to have a lot of work to do in terms of representation. For now, it looks like the label #EmmysSoWhite remains fitting.
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