At the 2017 Emmy’s, Lena Waithe (Master of None) became the first African-American woman to win for comedy writing, and Donald Glover (Atlanta) became the first African-American to win for comedy directing. While this year’s awards show proved to be a historical landmark in terms of diversity, the truth still stands: recognized black talent is not the norm. We must do better.
A 2016-17 report offers a stark image of the homogenous television industry: 90% of the showrunners for new shows were white, and 80% of those showrunners were men. Even if Waithe and Glover are recognized for their talent, they still represent a Hollywood anomaly. Actor Riz Ahmed (The Night Of) said,
“I don’t know if any one person’s win, or one person snagging a role, or one person doing very well, changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion.”
Glover expressed excitement about his achievement, but he told reporters, “[making history] is not what I was trying to do—I’m trying to make the best product. I believe people deserve quality, and when they taste it, they see their own value and they don’t ask for less. I just want to make a really good show.”
In the television world, something equally as important as diverse representation is diverse content.
Content that touches on every type of experience, not just the experience of wealthy white men in suits (we’re looking at you, Mad Men). Waithe won her Emmy for “Thanksgiving,” a Master of None episode that centers around female queerness and family struggle.
Waithe addressed her LGBTQIA family in her speech as she acknowledged the beauty of diversity:
“I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”
Jason Parham at Wired said, “[What if] Atlanta and The Night Of weren’t exceptions or benchmarks, but simply two shows in a medley of robust and authentic programming?”0