An Honor To Be Nominated, A Dishonor To BIPOC Nominees at the Emmys

Abi Hilden, contributor

To the handful of BIPOC award winners at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards: congratulations! To the Television Academy, the people behind the Emmys: you suck, and that’s an understatement.

I’ve always had a love for award shows. Rooting for the things I like, rejoicing when they win, or booing at who beat them. These award programs give myself and many others feelings of nostalgia, comfort, and pride in the content we consume. As I’ve grown older I’ve begun to look at award shows with a different lens, one focused on featuring diverse creators and storytellers. With that lens in mind, award shows have become somewhat of a let down, and this year’s Emmys were no exception.

In the acting categories, 44% of the nominees were performers of color. My initial reaction to that number was that it was still a little low, especially after the social change we’ve seen over the past year. What shocked me the most however, was to find out that in all 12 acting categories, not a single BIPOC won an award. Performers of color made up almost half of the nominees and you’re telling me they didn’t win a single award? Something seems extremely off to me.

Now, one explanation for this problem is how the Television Academy decides the winners of each Emmy award. Members of the Academy are split into 30 groups of specialized fields. Those in each group vote for the nominees and winners for categories that align with their field. Actors vote on actors, directors vote on directors, and so forth. All of that may seem as a great way to honor all kinds of exceptional work in each field but it becomes a bit muddy when you realize that the Emmys work on an honor system. After nominees are decided, the Academy requires you to watch all of the content for the award you’re voting on and then vote accordingly. But, they don’t have any concrete way to tell if you actually watched everything, as it’s all based on an honor system.

This honor system is the catalyst for why shows like Ted Lasso or The Crown become award show darlings, sweeping awards across all categories. It also makes it evident why BIPOC are severely overlooked in terms of awards time and time again. People of color are underrepresented in the media and have been for years. So, when the people voting for the Emmys go to “watch” the shows they are supposed to watch, they may watch one or two of the more popular shows and then vote for that show down the entire ballot. That show is typically led by white actors, white directors, white people all around, as white people are represented so much more than BIPOC.

What’s even more frustrating about this whole situation is that the Emmys have even made statements in support of the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements. They claim to want to honor BIPOC stories and creators and then do the exact opposite of that with their awards. At this point, it’s not even that surprising to BIPOC creatives themselves that they are often overlooked at the Emmys. Cedric the Entertainer even made a joke about it when presenting one of the awards at this year’s show. The entire situation is maddening.

For lack of a better way to say it and in the risk of sounding redundant, the Television Academy and the Emmys need to do better. BIPOC creatives deserve more credit than they are given over and over. BIPOC storytellers deserve better than #EmmysSoWhite.