If the expectation of the 70th annual primetime Emmy Awards was to scale back, ignore all the elephants in the room and pretend that Hollywood itself isn’t being scrutinized for its diversity issues, then, this wasn’t going to be that show.
No punches were pulled at the 70th annual Emmy Awards. At least not in what was planned and scripted.
This last year has been filled with headlines of abuses of power and racial improprieties and the biggest night in television smartly decided not to ignore those. Hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che of Saturday Night Live dived right in, joking early on in their opening that no one wants to get a phone call from Ronan Farrow, the reporter who has been breaking much of the #MeToo stories that have set social media — and Hollywood studios — afire.
But it’s the diversity headlines that was to take centerstage.
“TV has always had a diversity problem, Che said in a serious tone, before cracking that shows like ER failed to have a filipina nurse, or that Cheers which was about a sports bar set in Boston and never once had a black guy walk in, see an all-white crowd and walk right back out.
They noted some of the diversity gains coming, like a black reboot of Bewitched, and then immediately joked about all-white reboot of FX’s smart Atlanta, called 15 miles Outside of Atlanta, which focuses on white women who call the police on people in Atlanta.
The joke landed well. It’s funny — and scary — because it’s true.
But it wasn’t until Regina King was called on stage that the first African American collected an Emmy on Monday night, and when it happened it was — naturally — a moment.
“Really,” the now three-time Emmy winner practically drawled, after being called up on stage for collecting an award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Seven Seconds. “Say word.”
King has been a consistent staple in Hollywood for more than three decades; a go-to actor who also directs and simply leaves an impression in her wake.
“I am so grateful television academy. My friends. My peers. Thank you, thank you thank You,” a visibly surprised King said. “This is amazing. I want to curse right now! Thank you Jesus!”
Thandie Newton of HBO’s Westworld also collected an Emmy for Supporting Actress for a Drama series, as did RuPaul’s Drag Race (for reality competition).
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here?” RuPaul said before the crown erupted into applause.
And that was it for the winners’ stage on Monday night’s telecast.
In the show’s opening, there was a song and dance that celebrated the diversity and mocked the moment: “We solved it!,” actors like Kenan Thompson, Sterling K. Brown and Kristen Bell sang, patting the industry on the back in song at the most diverse primetime Emmys in TV history. But yet, black creatives were locked out for much of the night during the primetime telecast.
It’s not enough to just be nominated.
That’s a great start. It’s incredible to see Issa Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson and Donald Glover and authentically black shows like Atlanta and Insecure and Black-ish stand proudly next to mainstream fare and long held staples.
But the next frontier is to actually see them grace that stage.
It should be noted that during a pre-ceremony a little over a week ago at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony that history was made. For the first time ever, all four winners in the guest actor categories were black: Tiffany Haddish won best guest actress in a comedy for hosting Saturday Night Live, Samira Wiley for best guest actress in a drama for The Handmaid’s Tale, Ron Cephas Jones won best guest actor in a drama for This Is Us, and Katt Williams won best guest actor in a comedy for his hilarious arc on Atlanta.
But there were no series Monday night on-stage moments. How great would it have been to see that history being made and unfolded live on television? For the culture.
On Monday night, with Che pulling co-hosting duties, he, for sure, kept bringing it back to the culture, like in the segment that came right after King won her Emmy: a pre-recorded sketch called The Reparations Emmys where he popped up on beloved black actors who co-starred in beloved black TV shows. He awarded actors like Marla Gibbs, for bringing Florence from The Jeffersons to life; Jimmy Walker from Good Times; Kadeem Hardison, A Different World; Jaleel White, Family Matters; Tichina Arnold, from Martin and Everybody Hates Chris and John Witherspoon from The Wayans Bros. all were bestowed with Emmys Che said he swiped from Bill Cosby. The segment didn’t appear to land very well with both the audience in the theater and on social media, but the idea was kind of … interesting.
An award show that reaches back and pays homage to the black actors and creatives who created culture? The Culture? Here for it. And whatever hashtag it may inspire.
Because the culture needs it. We need it.