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Emmys Analysis: You Have To Keep Pushing For Diversity And Work To Maintain Equality


At last night's Emmys, the pool of nominees was so diverse the opening number made fun of it, proclaiming that Hollywood had solved the problem of underrepresentation in the TV business.


KATE MCKINNON AND KENAN THOMPSON: (Singing) We solved it. We've gotten with the times. There's room for all our voices but mostly Shonda Rhimes.

KATE MCKINNON: (Singing) You're welcome Asian people. We gave you that one show.

KENAN THOMPSON: (Singing) And who can forget the amazing Sandra Oh?

CORNISH: Now, despite a record number of non-white people nominated for the Primetime Emmys, not that many of them actually won in the big categories. Here to break it down for us is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey there, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi. Maybe they should've called it we didn't solve it (laughter).

CORNISH: Right, right, it was not a subtle number, I'll give them that. So who were the winners? What happened?

DEGGANS: So the big winners were shows like "Game Of Thrones" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." They won best drama and best comedy. And these are also shows where the top roles are mostly played by white people. And so where we saw non-white people went last night was in categories like best actress in a limited series, which Regina King won, or Thandie Newton winning for best supporting actress in a drama. But in a major category like best actress in a drama, the TV Academy had a chance to make history by giving Sandra Oh the award. She would have been the first Asian woman to win in this category, but instead Claire Foy from "The Crown" won.

CORNISH: So walk us through the thinking, sort of how Emmy voters made some of these choices.

DEGGANS: Well, it seemed to me that among the programs nominated in the major categories at the Primetime Emmy Awards, there's still some segregation. I mean, we've got shows with lots of non-white actors that get major nominations like ABC's "Black-ish" or FX's "Atlanta" or "Insecure" on HBO. But other shows that compete in these categories are not so diverse, especially in drama.

So I looked at the series that won multiple awards last night and most of them - "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Game Of Thrones," "The Crown," "The Americans" - have little or no diversity in their top roles. So when a show like "Mrs. Maisel" wins five awards in the comedy space, I mean, that squeezes out other shows where people of color were nominated. And when you look at drama, shows like "The Americans" and "The Crown" kind of did the same thing.

So, you know, I was heartened to see shows that made strong statements about equality and LGBTQ issues like FX's "The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" or "RuPaul's Drag Race." I mean, they won high-profile awards last night. And this is kind of a tough subject because TV's so good now that all of these nominees seemed like they were worthy of winning, but we've got to talk about this because we've got to make sure that people are giving a fair shot to all kinds of shows.

CORNISH: But given that opening number that we heard, it's certainly front of mind, right? So what's your takeaway for what's really going on here?

DEGGANS: Well, I think this situation shows that more diversity is still needed among these high-quality TV shows that attract Emmy nominations in the first place. And when you look at the categories for directing, writing and producing, it's obvious there could be more ethnic and gender diversity in those areas, too. And if there's more diversity there, then recognizing a diversity of performers, producers and directors becomes a lot easier. I also think you got to recognize that when you reach a diversity milestone, you can't stop pushing to get better.

I mean, last year, the Emmy Awards had a much wider diversity of winners. We saw Lena Waithe become the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy for "Master Of None" and Donald Glover and Riz Ahmed and Sterling K. Brown - these guys won. It's easy to forget that equality is something you always have to work to maintain. And when you're just ready to kickback and say, you know, hey, we solved it, that's when you've got to buckle down and really focus on keeping it going.

CORNISH: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT 8 BRASS BAND'S "IT'S REAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.