Imagine being a white straight male that has recently become aware that Hollywood has a representation problem. Your new discovery inspires you to tap yourself to be the megaphone that calls out the lack of diversity in the industry even though you only clued into this decades-long problem a few months ago. Do you think that you’d be successful in recruiting more people to do this with you and convince them it was a good idea? How much of an ego do you think you’d have to have to pull this off without feeling thoroughly embarrassed?
These are the types of questions that keep me up at night— especially last night after watching the spectacularly self-congratulatory display at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Last night’s Emmys proved that Hollywood is supremely self-satisfied with the mediocre progress it’s made in terms of bringing diversity to television.
If the producers of the Emmy awards wanted to make an ironic statement about the ways in which diversity is presented on screen, they nailed it at last nights show. This year, practically on the heels of the #MeToo anniversary and a series of new studies that have highlighted the lack of progress we’ve made when it comes to representation on television, the awards show saw two straight male hosts take the stage to make introductions and cracks about sexual harassment in the industry, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Sandra Oh, the first woman of Asian descent up for a lead actress Emmy, and her big nomination. From there on, the night was heavily bespeckled with proud mentions of the show’s record high (and still extremely unimpressive) slate of diverse nominees in Emmy history and jokes that made me want to know what happened to the night of spectacles and laughs I’d been promised.
The show’s greatest offense happened not even 20 minutes into the show when a song and dance number took over.
The 2018 Emmy Awards opened with a self-deprecating musical number called, “We Solved It” that just brought on one bad take after the next. Keenan Thompson opened the skit saying “This year’s Emmy Awards has the most diverse nominees in Emmy history” before jumping into a song alongside Kate McKinnon about Hollywood’s successful (ya huh) push for hitting all of its casting checkmarks, which hilariously enough, featured a cast of actual check mark actors. That’s right, checkmark actors. Ones like Sterling K. Brown, RuPaul, Titus Burgess, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Bell, who are all lovely to watch but also just correctly Black, LGTBQ, and female enough for producers to believe that viewers at home will find them palatable. They’re Blackish in their performances on screen, they’re queer but could pass as straight and they’re female in the way the mainstream media likes their women: straight-sized, actually straight, blonde, and white. Ricky Martin was tapped to play the prop of the One Latino on stage so that the other non-Latinx actors could have their moment of salsa in the sun. (Reminder for next year’s producers: when April Reign started #OscarsoWhite three years ago she wasn’t saying “More Blacks please and heck let’s throw in another neglected minority group for good measure!”)
As the opening musical number went on, Ru Paul came to tell the cast of singing actors that in fact, Hollywood’s massive diversity had not been “solved.” Of course, I love Ru but we didn’t need the “Drag Race” host to tell us this, a good spotlight on the lack of Latina presentees (only Gina Rodriguez presented an award), nominations, and wins could have made this statement fine.
Last night’s display also highlighted the Television Academy’s indifference to Latinas on screen.
The number of TV slots featuring Latina characters and writers are limited but the ones that exist are serving up content that has been met with critical acclaim. Gina Rodriguez didn’t campaign for “Jane the Virgin” as she had in previous years, instead, she opted to take the money for that and send a Latina to college. Still, the show’s most recent fourth season continued to receive praise from critics for its storylines, writing, and performances that surely could have attracted the attention of the academy enough to throw her or the writers on the show a nomination. But even then, the academy had some options. Take, for instance, Netflix shows “One Day At Time” and “Orange Is The New Black”. Both series have paved the way for a slew of Latinx characters that could have easily checked off the boxes for the Emmys in every category. They have Latinx writers, characters whose age ranges fall outside of the typical Hollywood spectrum, Afro-Latinas, indigenous Latinas, characters who deal with storylines that have been timely and relevant in today’s conversations around sexual assault, sexual identity and citizenship, and oh yeah deliver truly powerful performances. But did Rita Moreno or Selenis Leyva get nominations for their roles on screen? Nope, but thank god “Game of Thrones,” whose plot dabbles with dragons way more than it has ever dealt with diversity, managed to snatch up a win even despite failing to put out a new episode for over a year.
There was a moment at the end of Colin Jost and Micahel Che’s opening monologue that highlighted the quandary of the night well. After his co-host Jost sums up the upcoming shows featuring Latinxs and people of color on the screen, Che remarks “It’s not perfect but TV has come a long way in the last 70 years. I think that’s what you’re trying to say right?”
Yep, even despite a night of demonstrating how severely studios underrepresented and underserved Latinxs and other minorities in terms of televisions, that’s what they were trying to say.