Even in the middle of Hollywood’s big diversity push, it was still startling to see a significant amount of it across all acting categories this year. There are 36 non-white acting nominees this year — a solid 20% jump from last year, when there were 30.
Drill down deeper and it becomes clear that this year’s more inclusive slate is thanks to the supporting and guest categories in particular. Just take a look at limited series, where FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” earned noms for Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez and Ricky Martin. Or comedy, where “Atlanta” co-stars Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz landed their first supporting nods, as did “Saturday Night Live” Kenan Thompson — an astonishing 15 years after he first became a cast member.
Donald Glover and Sterling K. Brown — nominated as leads for “Atlanta” and “This Is Us” respectively — became double nominees thanks to noms in the guest comedy actor category, where they’re joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Katt Williams (“Atlanta”). Black women also dominate the guest actress category, with Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Viola Davis (“Scandal”), Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and Kelly Jenrette (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) all earned nods in drama, and Tiffany Haddish (“Saturday Night Live”), Wanda Sykes (“Black-ish”) and Maya Rudolph (“The Good Place”) landed ones in comedy.
Two leading nominations proved to be particularly pleasant surprises. “Insecure” creator Issa Rae landed a nomination in the competitive lead actress in a comedy category, finally getting recognition for her performance, which grounds the entire show. And then there’s “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh, who gained the most immediate notice for her lead actress in a drama series nod. It isn’t just richly deserved, but it also makes her the first actor of Asian descent to ever get a nomination in that category in the entire history of the Emmys — a breakthrough as incredible as it is depressing.
It’s tempting to ask how that could be possible, but as Oh herself has acknowledged, the answer is simple: non-white actors, and particularly those of Asian descent, just haven’t been afforded many opportunities to get cast, let alone lead a show. To wit: even in a year featuring more non-white actors than ever, Oh is still the sole non-white actor in her category. Things are improving, as is long overdue, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover in order to achieve real balance.