The need for diversity goes beyond membership.
Thursday morning, Emmy nominations were announced and many shows, actors, directors, and networks had big cause to celebrate. Film School Rejects favorite Game of Thrones scored a whopping 23 nominations with The People v. O.J. Simpson close behind at 22. USA’s smash hit Mr. Robot entered into the race and FX’s critical darling The Americans finally, four seasons in, has been recognized for its outstanding work. Apart from the nominations for The Americans, the most exciting thing about these nominations is how welcoming the Emmy awards are to diversity, new viewing platforms, and recognizing shows outside of their comfort zone. Where the Emmys are totally about change and progression, the Oscars seem to be stuck in their old ways. Yes, AMPAS did just induct hundreds of new and diverse members, but the effect of these new voting members has not been felt yet and their newfound diversity is mostly in response to the #OscarsSoWhite mega controversy.
For the past two years, every acting nominee at the Oscars has been white, but not for a lack of diverse actors doing great things in their films. At the Emmys this year, there are 21 non-white actors recognized across the categories and some of them are even the favorite to win. In the categories recognizing the individual shows and television movies, many of the nominees feature people of color in the leads. Last year when Viola Davis became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series, she said that, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Opportunities seem to be everywhere for LGBTQ actors, actors of color, and women on television and the Emmys embrace it. They have recognized Uzo Aduba and transgender actor Laverne Cox for their incredible work on Orange is the New Black, awarded the Claire Danes led Homeland as the best drama series of 2012 (where it became the first female led drama series to take home the prize since CBS’s Cagney & Lacey), and nominated shows like black-ish, Master of None, Mr. Robot, and Transparent for top prizes.
Actually, if one wants a clear example of how progressive the Emmys are, one should look at the comedy shows nominated this year. The six shows recognized are a cornucopia of diversity in actors and viewing platforms. Only two out of the six nominees are shown on regular broadcast networks. The rest belong to HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. Netflix garnered a massive 54 nominations in total. 54. Five years ago, if someone had told me that Netflix, the website I rent DVDs from, would be owning the Emmys game with their own original content, I would have laughed in their face. But, here we are. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are making and have made significant strides in original programming. These streaming platforms produce some of the best shows on television and even some great movies too. The Oscars have recognized Netflix, but just in the documentary category. Netflix’s first feature film Beasts of No Nation topped critic lists and was nominated for a Golden Globe and two SAG Awards. Many awards prognosticators expected it to show up at the Oscars, but it was unfortunately shut out.
Part of the reason that Beasts was shutout from the Oscars was due to the Academy’s eligibility guidelines for films to be considered. Their rules state that a film must be “for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theatre in Los Angeles County” and “for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screening must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily.” That’s extremely strict. When Netflix announced that they had acquired Beasts, major theater chains boycotted the showing the film because it did not honor the typical 90-day delay between a theatrical debut and a home entertainment release. With the rise of top quality content coming from these streaming platforms, is it time to revise that rule? The Emmys seem to think so.
The main attribute that the Emmys and Oscars share is that they both typically nominate within their comfort zone. If a show has been nominated once, statistically, it will be nominated again no matter what (like Downton Abbey for example). Almost all the films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar are about the same thing: white guys overcoming some sort of adversity. It makes it very hard for the new and exciting and different to break into the ranks, but when they do we celebrate. Thursday morning, the Emmy nominations broke out of their comfort zone and nominated the breakout hits Mr. Robot in six categories and UnREAL in two and, finally, gave The Americans the love it rightfully deserves. These shows are different on purpose. They are not the easiest to watch, but, my goodness, are they great. The acting is superb, the stories are complex, the writing is top-notch, and critics adore them. These shows breaking into the Emmys club are proof that the Emmys are not afraid to take chances. So what if Mr. Robot and UnREAL stand out from the pack? So what if they are like nothing else on television? Great television is great television and deserves to be recognized.
The Oscars should take a page from the Emmys book and take risks. Risks and chances are what make these awards shows so exciting and relevant. Television shows are getting better with every passing episode and are no longer restricted to just being on television. The Emmys are fully aware of that. Slowly, but surely, they are welcoming the change into the modern era. It just goes to show that if the Oscars stay where they are, they will be left in the dust.