68th Emmys Highlights Diversity in Television

Photo courtesy of Angela George, Wikipedia

Within the first 10 minutes of one of the most anticipated nights on television, Jimmy Kimmel arrived in style with the help of “Game of Thrones’” Khaleesi and her dragon, roasted Republican candidate Donald Trump, and bragged about Hollywood’s growing diversity.

“Are we ready to make the Emmy’s great again?” joked Kimmel at the end of his opening monologue.

The 68th Annual Emmy Awards on Sept. 18 marked the second time the late night TV host emceed the awards – he previously hosted it in 2012, when the event last aired on ABC. While the evening celebrated performances in the television industry, the nominees shared the stage with hot button issues such as diversity in Hollywood and politics in America.

With Election Day less than two months away, celebrities transformed their award speeches into platforms to address the current state of American politics. Kimmel opened up the night with direct jabs at the Republican nominee, blaming producer Mark Burnett for making Trump famous through the reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Courtney B. Vance, awarded the title of outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie, ended his speech with “Obama out, Hillary in.”

Winning the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for “Veep,” Julia Louis Dreyfus expressed her apologies for the current state of American politics and explained that her HBO comedy series might have began as a political satire but evolved into a realistic documentary.

“I’m honestly not a big fan of that,” said senior Casey Gerald, referring to the use of nomination speeches as a forum for political expression, “because I think it kind of ruins the image, it ruins the purity of what the Emmy’s are or any kind of ceremony like that.”

At a point in history where the lack of diversity is being called into question on a daily basis, the television industry has been applauded for its inclusiveness. With a diverse roster of nominees, the Emmy Awards have moved past the raging protests that overshadowed last year’s award season, where the absence of minorities and people of color on the ballot prompted celebrities to boycott the Oscars.

“Here in Hollywood, the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity,” quipped Kimmel. “The Emmys are so diverse this year that the Oscars are now telling people we’re one of their closest friends.”

Television shows have established a new normal with sets of diverse award-winning casts. This year’s Emmys represented the first time in 30 years that a black woman, Tracee Ellis Ross of “Black-ish,” had been nominated as leading actress in a comedy series.

While Ross did not win the award, plenty of other actors and actresses representing minorities and people of color did. Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot” was awarded lead actor in a drama series and Aziz Ansari and Alan Young won outstanding writing in a comedy series for Netflix’s “Master of None.”

“They are definitely keeping up with the changing times that are coming, with all the diversity problems happening in the world today,” said Sean Dorsa, a senior. “It’s good to show that just because someone is black or someone is of a different ethnicity or race, they can make something for themselves and be so popular and successful.”

The transgender community was given multiple shoutouts. Jeffrey Tambor accepted the award for best actor in a comedy series for his role as a transgender woman in “Transparent,” seizing his mic time as a forum to call for more opportunities for transgender talent. Later in the show, “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox echoed the sentiment and said she would not be where she is without the producers who gave her the first chance.

“There are definitely other places where it’s more appropriate [to bring up these issues],” said Dorsa. “But it’s good because people who do watch the show may not realize that the actress or actor up there feels that way towards a certain community. It’s good because [people within that community] might feel like they have an ally.”

The FX mini-series “People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” dominated the Emmy Awards, taking home eight awards, including outstanding limited series. “Game of Thrones,” awarded best drama series, set a new record this year, having won more Emmys than any primetime series in history.

With the Emmys being one of the first award shows of the 2016-2017 season, it is yet to be seen whether the issues of diversity and politics will resurface in upcoming award shows.

“I think it kind of set the stage, especially compared to the Oscars with that being such a big deal that there was a lack or color and diversity,” said Gerald. “I don’t really know how it all works, how they decide who are the judges and that kind of thing. Ultimately, I think that the whole concept of diversity and using the award show as a model for it is good.”