Emmys race

Black-and-white awards show re­flects TV’s nar­row eth­nic view


LOS AN­GE­LES — When cam­eras pan across the faces of ea­ger, anx­ious Emmy Award nom­i­nees at Sun­day’s cer­e­mony, TV view­ers will see a record 12 AfricanAmer­i­cans vy­ing for comedy and drama se­ries act­ing hon­ours. But it’s a lop­sided out­come in the strug­gle for di­ver­sity.

Mas­ter of None star Aziz An­sari, who is of In­dian her­itage, is the sole AsianAmer­i­can to be nom­i­nated for a con­tin­u­ing se­ries lead or sup­port­ing role. Not a sin­gle Latino is in­cluded in the mar­quee act­ing cat­e­gories.

An Emmy ver­sion of the 2015-16 #Os­carsSoWhite protests would miss the point: Acad­emy vot­ers snubbed wor­thy films and per­for­mances from peo­ple of colour, while in­sid­ers say the scant Emmy love for non-black mi­nori­ties largely re­flects closed TV in­dus­try doors.

“There are a lot of us, but be­cause we haven’t got the op­por­tu­nity to shine you don’t know we’re around,” said Ren Hanami, an Asian-Amer­i­can ac­tress who’s worked steadily on TV in smaller roles but has found sub­stan­tive, award­wor­thy parts elu­sive.

The hard-won progress made by the African-Amer­i­can stars and mak­ers of Emmy-nom­i­nated shows in­clud­ing Black-ish and At­lanta has brought them cre­ative in­flu­ence, vis­i­bil­ity and, this year, nearly a quar­ter (23.5 per cent) of se­ries cast nom­i­na­tions.

While other eth­nic groups cheer that suc­cess, they say it il­lu­mi­nates how nar­rowly the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try views di­ver­sity de­spite the fact that Lati­nos and Asian-Amer­i­cans are the first and third­largest U.S. eth­nic groups, re­spec­tively.

But it also shows change is pos­si­ble with a com­bi­na­tion of ac­tivism, ed­u­ca­tion and busi­ness savvy, say in­dus­try mem­bers and out­siders seek­ing change.

“TV has never been ‘brown­ish,”’ said ac­tor-co­me­dian Paul Ro­driguez. He starred in the 1984 sit­com a.k.a. Pablo, one of the hand­ful of Latino-cen­tred se­ries, and wrote The Pitch, or How to Pitch a Latino Sit­com that Will Never Air, a 2015 stage show he reprised this month in Los An­ge­les be­cause, he said, His­pan­ics haven’t gained ground.

“They don’t put us on tele­vi­sion enough for them to even know if it’s not work­ing,” Ro­driguez said. “They just as­sume it won’t work. And it goes on year af­ter year. Our pop­u­la­tion keeps grow­ing, and so does our frus­tra­tion.”

It’s reached crit­i­cal mass, said Alex No­gales, president of the Na­tional His­panic Me­dia Coali­tion. In 1999, the coali­tion joined with the NAACP and oth­ers to de­mand ac­tion.

“I’m tired of be­ing the nice Mex­i­can. It hasn’t taken us any­where,” No­gales said. His new plan: Make sure net­works and in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar dig­i­tal plat­forms such as Net­flix know when Lati­nos — nearly 18 per cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and with an es­ti­mated buy­ing power of about $1.5 tril­lion — are un­happy with their pro­gram­ming.

“Net­works have brands that have been around for a very long time. We can dam­age that brand, we can do it by march­ing in front of their of­fices and em­bar­rass­ing them. We can do it through so­cial me­dia,” No­gales said.

The need for more and bet­ter mar­ket re­search is a point Ro­driguez drives home in his play Pitch. In one scene, a net­work ex­ec­u­tive char­ac­ter uses a pie chart that pur­ports to show why Lati­nos are a loser for TV: Com­pared to blacks, they don’t watch enough TV.

But a dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges in the Nielsen re­search the in­dus­try uses. A re­cent re­port sug­gests the num­ber of His­pan­ics that TV reached monthly in the first quar­ter of 2017 ex­ceeded AfricanAmer­i­cans (50.7 mil­lion com­pared to 39.3 mil­lion). Blacks still spend more view­ing time weekly than other eth­nic groups (43 hours vs. 23 hours for Lati­nos and 14 hours for Asian-Amer­i­cans), but with smart­phones and other view­ing de­vices favoured by young peo­ple the gap nar­rows or dis­ap­pears.

There’s been some progress but not enough, says a six-uni­ver­sity study re­leased Tues­day. Re­searchers ex­am­ined a year’s worth of broad­cast, ca­ble and stream­ing shows and con­cluded that Asian-Amer­i­cans are un­der-rep­re­sented and “to­k­enized.”

Brook­lyn Nine-Nine ac­tress Stephanie Beatriz knows what can hap­pen when those with power are part of the so­lu­tion. The sit­com’s cre­ators, Daniel J. Goor and Michael Schur, as­sem­bled peo­ple whose sto­ries aren’t part of their own ex­pe­ri­ence, she said, “but they want to help tell them. As straight white men, they are the strong­est al­lies that un­der-rep­re­sented groups could ever have.”

Es­tab­lished ac­tors of colour and oth­ers with clout also are tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands. African-Amer­i­cans are well into the own­er­ship game — mu­sic star John Leg­end’s projects in­clude the TV se­ries Un­der­ground, Lau­rence Fish­burne is a pro­ducer on Black-ish — and, in­creas­ingly, they’re not alone.

Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0) started 3AD, a film and pro­duc­tion com­pany that is be­hind The Good Doc­tor,a fall drama for ABC about a young sur­geon (Fred­die High­more) with autism and sa­vant syn­drome. And 3AD has nine other projects in de­vel­op­ment, Kim said, aimed at rep­re­sent­ing the full hu­man con­di­tion, eth­nic and oth­er­wise.

The Wild West na­ture of the dig­i­tal world is pro­vid­ing an­other en­try point for di­ver­sity.

Even le­gendary pro­ducer Norman Lear, creator of All in the Fam­ily, The Jef­fer­sons and more ground­break­ing TV, is tak­ing the dig­i­tal road.

Lear, who pro­duced a.k.a. Pablo, is be­hind Net­flix’s re­boot of his 1974-84 comedy One Day at a Time that puts a Cuban-Amer­i­can fam­ily in place of the orig­i­nal white one.


Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz ap­pear in a scene from the comedy se­ries Brook­lyn Nine-Nine. Beatriz, who worked ex­ten­sively in the­atre and en­joyed the free­dom of ap­pear­ing in a range of colour-blind stage roles as well as play­ing specif­i­cally Latina char­ac­ters.

Mas­ter of None’s Aziz An­sari is the only Asian-Amer­i­can to re­ceive an Emmy Award nom­i­na­tion for his ef­fort in a con­tin­u­ing se­ries lead or sup­port­ing role.

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