The importance of inclusion in the industry has dominated headlines over the past year. However, it has still not translated to Academy voters: The 70th annual Emmy award nominees are overwhelming white and male.
“The Emmys definitely matter because they give power and platform to the folks that are getting nominated to be able to open more doors for others [and] to be able to fail some, as well,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of racial justice organization Color of Change. “That recognition does create more openings and more opportunities. But what I think the challenge is here is that it doesn’t change the systemic exclusion. … What we’re seeing is not the type of culture change across the board.”
The performance categories at the Emmys are mandated to be a somewhat even split between male and female nominees since actors compete only with others of their own gender in the drama, comedy, limited series/movie and short form categories. (The categories of reality host, voice over performance and narrator are open to both genders.) But looking at the racial makeup of the nominees, parity is still far off.
With 127 nominees across those categories, 67.7% of performers who earned noms this year are white and 32.3% are people of color. Certainly history was made when Sandra Oh earned her lead drama actress nomination for “Killing Eve” because she is the first actress of Asian descent to crack that category — in 70 years.
The comedy actor categories consist of 59% white nominees and 41% people of color; drama actors see a 71.7% white/28.3% people of color split; and limited series/movie nominees are 60% white and 40% people of color. The other performance categories combined are 76.9% white nominees and 23.1% people of color.
But it isn’t just on-screen representation that matters.
While it is certainly nice for an audience to see themselves reflected in the faces on those shows, it is arguably more important that the people behind the scenes represent a large cross-section of the population.
After all, those behind the scenes are the ones creating and driving the storytelling. More inclusion in key production departments ensures the stories they are telling will be diverse, as well.
Unfortunately, there is a much longer way to go behind the scenes.
The writing categories this year comprise 69% white male nominees, 21.1% female nominees and 9.9% people of color, while the directing categories have an even more dismal division of 83.3% white male nominees, 8.3% female nominees and 8.3% people of color. Only one woman is nominated in drama directing and comedy directing. No women made the cut in limited series/movie/special directing.
“Who’s qualified and who’s not qualified has created a racial and gender exclusion and has created a climate that who gets to tell America’s stories — the stories that shape how we understand ourselves, how we’re entertained, that reflect how we’re living — are primarily folks who control all of the other levers of power in our country,” says Robinson. “We’re not building the type of ark — we’re not building the type of humanity — that art should build.”
Historically male-dominated below-the-line fields once again follow suit. In cinematography, 84% of nominees this year are white men, with only 6% women and 10% people of color. The lighting categories see a nominee pool that is a whopping 93.8% white men, with a paltry 3% women and 3% people of color. Technical directing comprises 80.9% white men, 5.3% women and 13.8% people of color. For stunts, 72.7% of nominees are white men, with 9% women and 18% people of color.
Other categories, from editing to production design to visual effects and music/sound categories, still skew well over half to white males.
The editing categories consist of 69.6% white men, 21.6% women and 12.7% people of color, while sound editing is dominated by 80.4% white men and only 11.7% women and 9.2% people of color. Visual effects comes in at 66.3% of nominees being white men, 16.3% women and 19.8% people of color; production design has 56.9% white men, 38.9% women and 5.6% people of color this year; and music sees 61.9% white male nominees with 19% women and 19% people of color.
Even the choreography and main title design categories lean toward white men. In choreography, 60% of them take the nominee slots, leaving 40% for women and 20% for people of color. In main title design, it is 42.9% white men, 14% women and 47.6% people of color.
“The problem of equal representation of women is industry-wide. The Emmy nominations for women in non-acting roles tend to track closely to the employment numbers documented by the annual Boxed In study of Women in Television,” says Julie Burton, president, Women’s Media Center.
“The high-profile women in Hollywood who have bravely spoken out have made possible a public conversation about power and the lack of equality for women,” she adds. “We need change not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera and in the corner suite. Hiring more women — especially in decision-making roles — is essential.
“Who tells the story is as important as what the story is. Right now, even with the high-profile changes for a few prominent media positions, the test of real and widely impactful change will be if the companies actually hire and promote more women at all levels of the industry. Until we see an equal number of women in all the behind-the-scenes jobs, none of this can change.”
There are a handful of categories in which women have come out on top this year, though. In costumes, 92.7% of nominees this year are women, with 14.5% white men and 16.4% people of color; in hairstyling, 82.8% of nominees are women, with 13.8% white men and 25.9% people of color; in makeup, both prosthetic and non-prosthetic, women make up 63.6% of nominees, with white men making up 28.2% and people of color taking 13.6% of the slots.
Discussions about how those in the business can do better have certainly been under way for some time. But even for those who are striving to change hiring and training processes, it takes time for the next wave of talent to come up and not only create their own shows or lead their own departments, but also be recognized.
“The industry really has to challenge itself,” Robinson says. “There needs to be changes both in the Academy and a real push on hiring and opportunities. It has to happen on both ends. … You have to interview multiple candidates. It doesn’t mean you have to hire them, but if folks are getting in the door and have to contend, then they’re a part of a conversation.”