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Only 19 out of 70 nominees in this year’s lead, supporting and guest actor and actress categories across dramas, comedies and limited series are people of color. But when it comes to unseen performers — including those in the narration category — there are actually more nominees of color than white ones.

“I’m reluctant to jump to conclusions,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says about the diversity discrepancy. For narrating “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War,” the NBA legend-turned historian is one of four Black nominees — he’s joined by W. Kamau Bell to “We Need To Talk About Cosby,” Lupita Nyong’o for “Serengeti II” and Barack Obama for “Our Great National Parks.” This year, “The Mating Game” narrator David Attenborough, was the only white person to make the category.

In 2021, Sterling K. Brown was the only nominated person of color but went on to win the award, and in 2020, Attenborough won against four Black nominees: Abdul-Jabbar, Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Angela Bassett. And similarly, since 2020, 50% of the nominees for character voiceover performance have been people of color.

Abdul-Jabbar sees this trend as evidence of unconscious biases still widely present throughout Hollywood. When asked what it means that the TV Academy recognizes people of color more often when they aren’t being seen, he brings up an audiobook he’s reading: “Moriarty: The Devil’s Game,” in which Black actor Phil LaMarr voices Sherlock Holmes.

“You wouldn’t know the voice was from a Black actor if you hadn’t looked at the cover art,” says Abdul-Jabbar. “I immediately wondered if people might be put off by seeing a Black Sherlock Holmes. But that’s the nature of the business — and perhaps all people — that we have to overcome initial biases in order to grow. Unfortunately, many people don’t want to grow; they just want what’s familiar. If we want to change the situation, the industry has to keep forging ahead with diverse casting until we have scrubbed those prejudices free from upcoming generations.”

Interestingly, the narration category isn’t separated by gender the way on-screen acting categories are — a practice about which Abdul-Jabbar is torn: “I agree that judging men and women separately in acting suggests there is a gender difference in the art, which doesn’t make sense. A painting is judged by the same criteria whether the artist is a man or a woman.”

At the same time, a common argument is that combining categories might lead to fewer noms for women, and Abdul-Jabbar also notes that “having gendered categories spotlights more actors and promotes their careers, which I’d hate to take away.”

“Perhaps some of this might be alleviated if we had more categories, like the Golden Globes,” he says. “Best drama, best comedy, best actor in a drama, best actor in a comedy, etc. Then we might merge the acting categories because we’re judging performances based on the same criteria and we have enough slots to recognize men and women equally.”

Regardless of who wins in his category, though, Abdul-Jabbar remains hopeful: “The cynical might say that by awarding nominations off-screen, they are building their diversity numbers without offending white audiences or artists. But there has been movement in Hollywood toward more diversity and inclusiveness, so I wouldn’t want to say this is a deliberate scheme.”

And his optimism seems well-informed, given that his own nomination comes for a project that may not have always been seen as worthy of recognition, being created “in response to [his] own primary education that pretended Black people were only slaves, athletes, or entertainers.”

To him, “Black Patriots” is “natural extension of what I’ve been doing for decades: informing the public about Black Americans influence on American history and culture.”