White Out at the 65th Emmys

Last night, after I finished all of my homework, I heard my roommates change the channel. My background noise changed from the constant crowd fuzz of football to the sparkling laughter of celebrities. I heard my boyfriend and my roommate groan, and I heard them curse, and I heard Kerrin cry, “It’s not even a good show!”

Oh, the Emmys.

Normally, I love award shows. In high school, I loved the pageantry of fashion and celebrity and parading about on a glowing, interactive stage. The Emmys were a time to stay up late with my mom and talk about how much we admire Jon Hamm’s slick dark hair and despise Cameron Diaz’ dress. I would complain about the snubbing of my favorite shows, and stay silent at the schmaltzy memorials.

But now, with a couple years of critical feminist study under my belt, the floodgates are open, and my eyes and ears were assaulted with problematic materials. While a lot of the show was entertaining and innocent enough, there was a complete lack of diversity represented in this year’s nominees. Yeah, I’m complaining (much like Ellen Pompeo) about the giant lack of racial diversity, and yeah, I’m going to complain in even more depth further down in this post. Are you ready? Because I’m ready.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 65th Emmys

For all awards shows, there is the obligatory shot of the nominees while the winner is being announced by the presenters. As the envelope opens, the tension mounts and you see the stars smiling, grimacing, with a hand over their mouth, or being squeezed by their date. With the way the stage was set for the 65th Emmys, each nominee had their own square screen to occupy, and the thing I noticed most was not their expression or their fancy garb, but the fact that virtually all of the nominees were white. Don Cheadle, Sofia Vergara, and Kerry Washington were the only actors and actresses of color represented in the pool out of over 90 acting nominations spots.

Diahann Carroll, the first African American to be nominated for an Emmy, praised Kerry Washington. The last time a Black woman was nominated for the Best Lead Actress in a Drama category was almost 40 years ago.

The diversity of the United States is constantly growing. The US Census bureau projects a decline of almost 10% in the population of white identifying folks in 47 years. A whopping 97%of the people nominated for acting roles in the Emmys were white. The entertainment industry of America is both formed by our culture and forms our culture. Adapting this reciprocal relationship to the Emmys would mean that our culture favors white washed representations on television screens, and because of this representation we are taking up that valuation of whiteness into our culture.

The cast and crew of Emmy favorite Homeland.

The problem is not to that there aren’t great actors and actresses of color, nor that there are no television shows with diverse casts. No, it means that a very well-regarded awards organization has decided that the best actors and actresses happen to be white, and that the “best shows on television” are not casting people of color for major roles. Walter White didn’t have to be white, nor did Carrie Mathison, or Selina Meyer. Not that I don’t love and admire the brilliant actors and actresses who play these roles. I do. But on television, white actors and actresses have priority for the major roles in top projects. People of color who are in a lot of television shows are often cast as an afterthought, or in a role that is specifically meant for a person of color. See all the Indian jokes and stereotypes in Big Bang Theory, for an example. Or better yet, don’t.

It’s not news to many that the US television industry is racist, but it should be a wake up call when virtually all of those shiny happy faces on the screens at an awards show, all those people we love and admire, all those people on whom we shower praise and glory, all those people who turn into role models for children, all those powerful people–they are white.

In the words of Merritt Wever…


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