Snubs are nothing new when it comes to awards shows. As a matter of fact, they’re part of the game, and many of the most-read stories about any kudocast have to do with who or what didn’t win. But sometimes the slight is so egregious — and a program somehow doesn’t get the recognition we all expected -— that it leaves our jaws agape.
That was the case at last year Emmys with “When They See Us,” the Netflix miniseries that was created and directed by Ava DuVernay and centers on the five young men who were wrongfully accused and convicted of the 1989 rape and assault of a woman in New York’s Central Park.
It’s a powerful, infuriating, emotional, gut-wrenching tale that stays with you long after you watch it. And of course, as the Black Lives Matter movement grows in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd — and attention is finally given to the systemic oppression faced by Black people and other communities of color — it’s even more resonant now. “When They See Us” landed a whopping 16 nominations last year, including outstanding limited series, yet won only one major Emmy — for star Jharrel Jerome, who earned the limited series actor honor for playing the youngest of the Central Park Five, Korey Wise.
Jerome’s win was huge and exuberant — and saved “When They See Us” from being completely shut out in the major categories. (The show also won an Emmy for limited series casting.) But the fact that “When They See Us” didn’t do better at the Emmys was perhaps a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in the entertainment business in recognizing stories from, and about, people of color.
I’d argue that the Emmys have done a better job than the Academy Awards (of #OscarsSoWhite fame) in opening the door to more representation among its nominations and winners. But there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that’s why the TV Academy has taken the measure of adding a vetting process to Emmy voting.
As we wrote last fall, as of January, when TV Academy members come up for renewal, they have to meet their peer group’s active membership requirements, which usually includes current or recent work experience in their field, in order to qualify to vote for the Emmys. (In many cases, that means multiple credits on productions within the past four years.)
Those who have worked for two decades in the entertainment business, and who would have qualified as active members for at least 16 years during their career, can also vote for the Emmys, even if they’re no longer employed in the biz. Everyone else will now be classified as an “associate member” — with most of the benefits of a TV Academy membership, except for filling out an Emmy ballot.
With the TV Academy membership now at around 25,000 people, the org felt the timing was right to ensure the Emmy voting body is truly representative of the industry it’s recognizing.
“It’s making sure that the strength of the Emmy stays and continues to grow,” Academy chairman/CEO Frank Scherma told us in November. “It’s very important to us. By doing a periodic review of the people voting on these awards, we just want to make sure they are both active professionals and industry veterans who are the best to judge these awards.”
The vetting process should help balance the voting body a bit more — perhaps bringing the median age down a touch and adding more diverse voices to the mix, given the more representative makeup of today’s active Hollywood workers.
The move comes a few years after the Motion Picture Academy made an effort to make the Oscars more diverse by changing the makeup of its voting body (of around 8,000) to active members who have worked on at least one film in the past 10 years (along with legacy members who have been active for at least three 10-year terms).
The vetting process isn’t expected to purge a large number of members, and so far, the Academy — which officially implemented the policy six months ago — deems it a success. “Yes, we began vetting members in a phased approach starting with January renewals,” a Television Academy spokesperson says. “We’re pleased that we can say with an even greater degree of confidence that those who vote for the Emmys are eminently qualified to do so.”
Snubs will still happen, but perhaps next time a show like “When They See Us” will get its due.