posted on: Thursday September 27, 2018
by: Anne DeLello ’20 A&E Staff
At the 2018 Emmy Awards, some unexpected twists made for both excited and disappointed actors, actresses, and fans. However, there was one overarching victory that represents something more important than individual winners and losers. For the first time in the history of the Creative Arts Emmys, four African American individuals won in the four guest categories at the award show.
Actors Tiffany Haddish and Katt Williams won in the guest comedy categories for their roles on Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Atlanta respectively, along with Ron Cephas Jones on This Is Us and Samira Wiley on The Handmaid’s Tale, who won the drama categories.
Haddish received rave reviews for her relevant and hilarious performance on SNL, which was a step in the right direction in and of itself. AV Club reported that she was the first black female standup comedian to host SNL in over 40 years.
Williams also received praise for his role as Donald Glover’s Uncle Willy, also known as the “Alligator Man” on Atlanta. According to Complex, the actor said he “interned at an alligator farm for three-and-a-half weeks, just so I could get comfortable enough that we didn’t use a stuntman.”
Jones also put in the effort to truly embrace his character, William, in This Is Us, going so far as to read August Wilson and James Baldwin, favorite authors of his character. The success for black Americans in the guest actor category continued when Wiley won for her role as Moira in the Hulu hit The Handmaid’s Tale. Deadlinedescribed her as being able to “wow viewers with her specific blend of resilience and vulnerability.” Not only were these awards important to the individuals, but the recognition also marked a step in the right direction for the non-white acting community.
The actors’ victories are not only a testament to their exceptional performances in the previously mentioned television shows, but to a growing representation of non-white actors in television. As the population of non-white actors in television grows, they are beginning to gain more recognition, just as these four did at this year’s Emmys.
With this acknowledgement in the world of television, black actors have a platform to speak about the lack of diversity in the past, and how they think the American television industry can improve in this area. When discussing how she came to audition for the role of Moira, and if it had anything to do with the book version of The Handmaid’s Tale, Wiley stated, “In that book, that whole world, Moira is definitely not black, let’s just put it like that.” She stepped into this role with full awareness that she was not what the author pictured when writing the novel and made it her own.
Wiley also expressed her hope for more African American recognition in television via understanding producers. According to Deadline, Wiley joked that, “they’re the kind of straight white men that make me believe.”
Jones also acknowledged the progress that is being made. Deadline reported that his character would not have even had a place in television when he was younger, and Jones acknowledged this statement with the comment, “We are moving forward and moving ahead.”
To make the field narrower than just television itself, the Emmys have seen an increased representation in actors of color in recent years. Variety reports that there were 36 non-white actors nominated for awards this year, a 20 percent increase from the 30 that were nominated in 2017. This year in the guest category alone, 11 of the 24 actors and actresses nominated were African American, which is another sign of improvement in diversity in television.
It has taken the Emmys too long to get to this point, and there is a still longer road ahead with regards to diversity and television. There has never been this much representation on television, but just as Wiley finds hope in her experience on The Handmaid’s Tale, this breakthrough, and these four actors, can give others hope too.