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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Emmy Awards dominate in diversity

Television becomes an agent for change

On Sept. 18, television celebrated its biggest night: The Emmy Awards. As Jimmy Kimmel, the night’s host, told us at the start of the show, this year’s nominees were the most diverse group ever—a stark contrast from the previous awards show, the 2016 Oscars, which failed to nominate even one person of color in its major acting categories. While it may seem counterintuitive for the Emmys to honor itself for its diversity, it’s still a step in the right direction. The nominees and winners were not only diverse in terms of race, but also in gender and sexuality, and there were some moments of triumph that deserve to be recognized.

First of the night was Jill Soloway, who won Best Directing for a Comedy Series for the Amazon series “Transparent,”  which centers around the lives of a family whose father comes out as transgender. Soloway recognized the growing trend of female directors in the industry, and she finished her acceptance speech with the phrase “Topple the patriarchy!”

Also winning for “Transparent” was Jeffrey Tambor, a male actor who stars as a transgender woman. Tambor used his acceptance speech to discuss the problematic nature of casting men as transgender women in television: In his speech, he said that he would like to be the last one, and urged agents and producers to “give transgender talent a chance.”

Transgender characters have become more mainstream since 2008, when Candis Cayne became the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character on primetime T.V. in “Dirty Sexy Money.” Trans characters have been featured in shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “Sons of Anarchy,” and “Orphan Black.” However, “Orange is the New Black” is the only current primetime drama to cast a trans woman actress to play a trans woman character. Giving trans roles to gender-conforming actors takes opportunities away from those who are already marginalized, so recognizing that this trend needs to end ensures an important step towards full representation.

The Emmy Awards have also become more inclusive for LGBTQ people, with both Sarah Paulson, winner of Lead Actress in a Limited Series for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and Kate McKinnon, winner of Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for “Saturday Night Live,” taking home statues. Their winnings showed a significant change from last year’s selection of winners.

Black actors dominated the Limited Series category with Regina King winning for “American Crime” and both Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance winning for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a show which brought up many issues of race and gender. King, Brown, and Vance all brought issues of race to the forefront in their shows, and by selecting these actors to win these categories, the Emmys reaffirmed the importance of celebrating diversity.

Later in the night, Rami Malek also became the first non-white actor to win Lead Actor in a Drama Series since Andre Braugher (who was also nominated Last Sunday) won for “Homicide: Life on the Street” in 1998. This award is one of the biggest and most anticipated of the night, and a highly prestigious honor, so obviously Malek is extremely talented.

Possibly the most triumphant moment came when Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang won for Best Writing in a Comedy Series for “Master of None.” During his speech, Alan Yang brought up the issue of the lack of Asian representation in the media. He compared the number of Italian Americans and Asian-Americans in the United States (17 million of each group), and commented that, “They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ and ‘The Sopranos.’ We have ‘Long Duck Dong.’”

While I, as an Italian-American woman, would argue that he was only able to name movies with a male-centric cast, I completely agree with his point. Asians are the most underrepresented group in the media, with only one percent of leading roles going to Asian actors. The hashtag #OnlyOnePercent was trending earlier this year to bring awareness to the issue. Just last year, while watching “The Man in the High Castle,” I remember mentioning to my dad that this was the first show I had ever seen with more than half the cast played by Asian actors. Thankfully, the landscape is changing with shows like “Master of None,” “Fresh off the Boat, “The Mindy Project,” and “Quantico,” which all focus on Asian protagonists. Similarly, more Asian characters are popping up in shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “Silicon Valley,” and “The Walking Dead.”

Television seems to be the medium for change in Hollywood as white actors and actors of color were celebrated for their talents last Sunday. These gains for minority and underrepresented groups are huge in terms of creating permanent change and diversity in the industry. I look forward to further changes in the future where TV shows and the Emmys will not be acknowledged for their diversity, because celebrating, and furthermore, understanding diversity, will become the norm.

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