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#EmmysSoWhite? The 2021 Emmys failed to award any actors of color

·5 min read

First, there was #OscarsSoWhite. Now? #EmmysSoWhite.

Despite a diverse slate of nominees, the Television Academy failed to bestow a win to any actors of color at the 2021 Emmy Awards – and all the while tried to pepper the ceremony with messages of inclusion that felt hollow.

Commercial after commercial, award after award, speech after speech, audiences and attendees alike waited for a person of color to win an acting trophy that never came.

It was particularly disheartening to watch the late Michael K. Williams lose for his role as Montrose Freeman in "Lovecraft Country" (voting ended prior to his death several weeks ago). The Academy could have made history, too, by making "Pose" star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez the first transgender performer to win in a lead drama category after making history with her nomination. No such luck.

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"It's so great to see that television and the stories that we tell are finally becoming a reflection of every part of our society," said TV Academy chief Frank Scherma before introducing Governors Award recipient Debbie Allen. "Voices of Black, Latinx, Asian American and Indigenous creators along with the LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse and disabled communities are being heard for larger audiences than ever before."

While, yes, more inclusive television series indeed are making up a larger share of the landscape, you wouldn't be able to tell given the clear lack of support from Academy voters in terms of who took home the gold.

The Academy awkwardly made the disparity all the more obvious by stacking the presenters' list with diverse talent – ultimately further highlighting the poor representation of the winners. The organization is made up of 20,000 entertainment professionals including directors, performers, sound editors, writers and more, and launched a diversity and inclusion assessment earlier this year.

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Kate Winslet accepts the award for outstanding lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie for "Mare of Easttown."
Kate Winslet accepts the award for outstanding lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie for "Mare of Easttown."

"These stories touch all of us as part of our shared human experience," Scherma added. "We've only started this next evolution, where content is an authentic representation of who we all are as a global population."

"Only started" is clearly an understatement. (USA TODAY has reached out to the Television Academy for comment.)

Bela Bajaria, head of global TV at Netflix, said on a conference call Monday that the network put plenty of support behind diverse series like "Bridgerton" and is committed to investing in diversity. "Ultimately the voters decide what wins, but I do think it was really great to see such an amazing – if you look at all of the nominees – a really great diverse group of nominees," she said.

Of course, the Emmys have been inclusive in the past – far more so than, say, the Oscars – and one year does not a definitive trend make. This is the same awards show which gave us the queerest Emmys ever in 2019, when Billy Porter took home the award for best actor in a drama series, becoming the first openly gay man to do so. And Zendaya surprised with a win for best actress in a drama series for "Euphoria" in 2020.

But this year, when half the nominees for best lead actress in a drama series were women of color, and four of six best lead actor in a drama series nominees were men of color, it seemed to signal more overdue momentum for consistent representation among award-winners this year. (RuPaul Charles did make history this year as the most-awarded Black artist in Emmys history after clinching an 11th win, for best reality competition series).

While awards alone can't make change, they play a part in helping shape future series. And at the end of the day, Emmy "winner" holds more clout than Emmy "nominee."

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Still, women hit several milestones at the 2021 Emmys

Silver linings of the night belonged predominantly to women for their work behind the scenes. Michaela Coel won outstanding writing for a limited or anthology series or movie for the searing "I May Destroy You"; Jessica Hobbs of regal "The Crown" won best directing for a drama series; and Lucia Aniello of hilarious "Hacks" won best directing for a comedy series. Aniello, Paul Downs and Jen Statsky won for best writing for a comedy series for "Hacks," too. (Per Deadline and Variety, this is the first time women have won both directing categories in the same year.)

Michaela Coel accepts the award for outstanding writing for a limited or anthology series or movie for "I May Destroy You."
Michaela Coel accepts the award for outstanding writing for a limited or anthology series or movie for "I May Destroy You."

"Not a lot of women have won this award," Hobbs said during her acceptance speech. "So I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of some really extraordinary people. I'm very grateful for the path that they lead. And I particularly like to pay tribute to my mom, who at 77, is still directing."

Aniello added in her speech: "We wanted to make a show that honors anybody who struggled to tell their stories, especially women who never got to tell their story at all because the world wasn't listening."

For now, we should all heed the strong words of Coel, who was also up for best actress in a limited or anthology series or movie for "I May Destroy You." (The award went to Kate Winslet for "Mare of Easttown.")

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She preached the importance of unplugging and defining your own success.

"In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success: Do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence."

Emmys accolades certainly breed opportunities, but awards are not the be-all and end-all they once were. If you have a story, tell it any way you can. Audiences are listening.

Contributing: Erin Jensen

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Emmys fail to honor any actors of color at 2021 awards

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