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.