By Kahini Iyer Sep. 18, 2018
Award ceremonies have long been criticised for being self-indulgent affairs, designed by the rich, white, and famous – for the rich, white, and famous. If the Emmys this year, defined by its snubs, were any evidence, there’s still a long way to go before that changes.
’ll be honest, the Emmy Awards might be TV’s biggest night, but they are nobody’s favourite. They’re less glamorous than the Oscars and not as wholesome as the Golden Globes. They also lack the campy, show-stopping magic of the Tony Awards, and the hipster factor of the Grammys. And it’ll still remain the least favourite, even when Childish Gambino attends both the Grammys and the Emmys.
This year’s ceremony was especially disappointing, even by Emmy standards. Hosts, Colin Jost and Michael Che failed to live up to expectations as Saturday Night Live cast members, delivering stale jokes and subdued energy that ironically matched the tone of the night. Even comedians Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen bombed in a #fail that would have seemed impossible before it actually happened. The most exciting moment of the night was when director Glenn Weiss – winning in a category that may as well be called “Bathroom Break” or “Time to Check Twitter” – proposed to his girlfriend during his acceptance speech. Sure, it was an endearing scene, but was it an Emmy moment? Not so much.
But perhaps the greatest disappointment was the ceremony’s wavering focus on equality. The Emmys opened with a sarcastic musical tribute to Hollywood’s diversity problem called “We Solved It”. Performed by Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell, Sterling K Brown, Ricky Martin, RuPaul, and John Legend, it included a troupe of “one-of-each” dancers in rainbow colours. The lyrics even poked fun at Hollywood’s tokenism and its inability to walk the talk.
Unfortunately, the satire sliced too close to reality, as category after category kept throwing up white winners. Despite a heavily panned season, Game of Thrones won the award for Best Drama, while the equally lily-white Marvelous Mrs Maisel took home a host of awards. The only exceptions were Thandie Newton, who won for her terrifying turn in HBO’s Westworld, Darren Criss winning the Lead Actor in a Limited Series, and Regina King winning the same for a show that was almost cancelled by Netflix. But with not even a handful of racially diverse winners, the hosts’ inability to address the white elephant in the room was perhaps its weakest link.
It’s even more surprising considering there was a promising slate of nominees of colour representing an extraordinarily diverse year of TV – a fact that was prematurely celebrated by the hosts. Donald Glover’s crowning glory, Atlanta, was up for several nods, as were Black-ish and Insecure. Grey’s Anatomy alum Sandra Oh was nominated for Killing Eve, becoming the first Asian to be nominated for Lead Actress in the Drama category. But as the awards were handed out, it became increasingly evident that it was merely lip-service. For the Emmys, affording room for actors of colour in its nominations was victory enough. TV critic, Sonia Saraiya wrote in Vanity Fair, “The awards clearly made an effort to bring diverse talent onstage to present the awards, and the winners at the pre-broadcast Creative Arts Emmys included an unprecedented number of actors of colour winning for guest and supporting roles. But when it came to the major prizes, the Academy seemed to show a preference for shows that elide the problem of race or eschew discussing it entirely.”
But as the awards were handed out, it became increasingly evident that it was merely lip-service. For the Emmys, affording room for actors of colour in its nominations was victory enough
More than its victories, the 70th Emmy Awards will be remembered for its dismal snubs. As Oh quipped during the ceremony, “It’s an honour just to be Asian,” a joke that is even more heartbreaking when you realise how cruelly the Emmys treated the hopes of so many nominees – inviting them to the party but leaving them out in the cold. That the ceremony was boring AF did little to help.
Barely a month back, Jon M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993), smashed box office expectations and is poised to gross $150 million – even before its release in India this week. The widespread adulation for this modest film was a result of Hollywood finally looking beyond its white privilege.
And it is this precise moment that the Emmys failed to capture this year: the joy of seeing the underdog win; the passionate plea for equality from a Viola Davis or an Oprah Winfrey, as we have seen at other awards shows; the historic victory that could have belonged to Oh; the acceptance speech of Donald Glover, who attended the ceremony dressed in whiteface as his Atlanta character Teddy Perkins.
Awards ceremonies have long been criticised for being bloated and self-indulgent affairs, designed by the rich, white, and famous for the rich, white and famous. If the Emmys this year were any evidence, there’s still a long way to go before this narrative is changed.