Diversity is currently the most complicated, yet simple concept in the entertainment world. It honestly shouldn’t be this hard to include a variety of people, stories and perspectives in the TV shows and movies that we love, but here we are, in 2016, with award shows still doling out gold statues to the whitest and straightest nominees. Despite the blinding whiteness that has been the past two Oscars, the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards made obvious strides in the furthering of diversity in the entertainment industry, although it must be known that one night is not enough to change everything. The majority of American society, despite being extremely diverse, continues to be severely whitewashed in terms of whose stories are being told. These stories that are portrayed in television and movies are controlled by white people, and any attempt at “resolving” the issue in more recent years is that people are becoming more aware of it. Progress is happening, but at too slow of a pace.
Self-awareness is a huge part of progress and host Jimmy Kimmel, who was a pleasantly surprising success in his ability to keep the night moving, got the ball rolling right away by joking in his opening monologue. He said, “Here in Hollywood, the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.” He hit the theme of the controversy right on the head with that one line. Hollywood loves the illusion of progress, of throwing in “token minorities” so that they can say that they’re diverse and call it a day. However, they are congratulating themselves too prematurely and are not waiting until progress is truly made to celebrate their successes.
A great line in Jeffrey Tambor’s speech after winning for “Transparent” reflects the aforementioned idea. He said, “I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television.” The fact that he has to make that distinction, that besides Laverne Cox there are barely any recognized transgender actors or actresses currently in the industry, should be a wake-up call to Hollywood. Yes, we have shows like “Orange Is The New Black” and “Transparent,” and even the Netflix original series “Sense8” that represent trans people, but how can three shows compare to the years of television series dedicated to straight people? Surely there is room for more than these three stories.
One issue in comparing the Oscars and the Emmys is that there can be a world of difference between the two award shows and the opportunities that they are afforded. TV shows have more opportunities to be diverse and that is not to defend the movie industry or all the white nominees that were chosen in the past few years. If anything, it is to say why they are like that. Movies are a one-time shot and their goal is to bring in the most revenue by appealing to the widest audiences. Many production companies play it safe and bring in popular white actors that they know a large population of people will be willing to go out to the theater and see, and will generate the response at the box office that they need for the movie to be lucrative. Alternatively, although there is a risk at the beginning of a TV series with initial viewership, fan culture is much stronger with a series than with a movie. Therefore, if a fan-base gets especially attached to a story, then that generates a successful series. TV is based around ratings and nowadays, with the prevalent use of social media, the power of fan culture and the ability to keep a series afloat was never stronger. We have the say in what we want to see; diversity in the stories being portrayed comes from us, the viewers, demanding it.
The Emmy’s did a fairly good job with diversifying their nominees this year. They recognized some major talents in the industry, from actors of color like Courtney B. Vance, Rami Malek, Aziz Ansari and Regina King to the recognition of members of the LGBT community like Kate McKinnon’s first win and to Jeffrey Tambor for his role in Transparent. However, the so-called “challenge” with diversity is that it isn’t just a “one and done” sort of deal; you don’t get to have one OK year of representation and then go back to the way things were. Diversity needs to be one of those things that, since it was ignored since the beginning of TV and film itself, takes time to become a homogenous part of the way that media is created. We should expect a high level of diversity and our standards should always be high, if not even higher as time goes on. We should strive for better each year, not only to recognize the efforts and talents of actors, writers, directors, producers and editors of all different backgrounds, but because we should want their stories told.