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'Diversity' Was Nothing But an Empty Buzzword at the 2018 Emmys

Of 12 acting categories, only three were won by people of color at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards.

by Danielle Kwateng-Clark and Sara David
Sep 18 2018, 3:11am

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The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards took place in Los Angeles on Monday, and in a time when Hollywood’s “diversity problem” has reached what many believe to be a tipping point, there was an exciting potential that this year’s ceremony could show a promising shift.

“Look at us,” Sterling K. Brown sang during the opening performance. “We’re all different in the same way. We solved it! This room is so diverse. From Democrat to liberal Democrat, can I sing another verse?!”

Issa Rae (Insecure) and Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish) were nominated for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, and Sandra Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to ever be nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her role in Killing Eve. These actresses were referenced frequently throughout the night as people praised the “diversity” of the evening’s nominees.

But all three of these actresses lost their categories. Of 12 acting Emmys, only three people of color took home awards.

Regina King won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie for her role in Seven Seconds, a Netflix scripted series about a police cover-up in Jersey City. This is the third Emmy for King, who won outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or a movie in 2015 and 2016 for her role in American Crime. King also has a role in Barry Jenkins’ upcoming, highly anticipated film If Beale Street Could Talk.

Thandie Newton won her first Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama series for her role in Westworld. “I don’t even believe in God, but I’m going to thank her tonight,” the English actress said in her acceptance speech.

Besides King and Newton, Darren Criss, whose mother is Filipino, won outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for his role in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. RuPaul was the fourth person of color to win in a major category, taking home an Emmy for outstanding reality competition series for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Other than those winners, every other nominee of color lost to, at times, entire casts without a single person of color.

The losses made a loud statement that instead of talking about diversity, it would be great if it actually existed beyond rhetoric.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that only two people of color won acting Emmys. It has been updated to include Darren Criss.