Stars on the red carpet shined brighter than the ones in the sky on Sept. 20, as A-list actors and Hollywood starlets gathered in Los Angeles for the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards. No one shined brighter than Viola Davis, best known for her role as Annalise Keating in ABC’s hit series “How To Get Away With Murder.” She became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, leading the pack of the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history.
“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” Davis said in her acceptance speech. “So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Time and time again actors, actresses, producers and directors of color are sidelined as their white counterparts receive all of the attention and accolades. A prime example was this past February when “Selma” director Ava DuVernay was excluded from the Academy Award nominations for Best Director even though critics and moviegoers alike revered her film.
“I’m a realist and there was no precedent for a black woman director to be nominated, so it wasn’t going to change with me,” DuVernay said in an interview with Deadline Hollywood. She added that despite a nomination for Best Picture and stellar reviews for the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, she wasn’t being presented with new offers as some of her male, white counterparts were.
In the 67 years since the birth of the Emmys, a disproportionately low number of African-Americans have been bestowed with the prestigious award. The same pattern continues in other awards shows. Although the pool of nominees for the Emmys this year was the most diverse in its history, this does not automatically resolve the issue of diversity — or lack thereof — in the entertainment industry. People flock to social media platforms to vocalize their desire to see more ethnic diversity in awards shows. The hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” flooded Twitter last year as millions commented on the issue of diversity. However, this hasn’t resolved the problem of continually ignoring the achievements of black artists.
This is not to say that there aren’t any people of color receiving awards recognition; it’s more an observation that the entertainment field is still largely dominated by white males. One would like to believe that all races and ethnicities are being equally represented in film and television, but this simply isn’t a reality yet.
Zendaya may have a Barbie doll modeled after her, and there may be a black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, serving as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but we still have yet to hit a point where all races are equally represented in the entertainment industry. There is still a lot of work to be done before we will begin to see more equal representation on screen.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 22 print edition. Email Dejarelle Gaines at [email protected]