The Emmy Awards: A reflection on representation in pop culture

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The Emmy Awards: A reflection on representation in pop culture

Photo by Doug Peters

Photo by Doug Peters

Photo by Doug Peters

Morgan Hughes

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Congratulations, Jon Hamm. You have won an Emmy and it was well deserved.

Of all lead actor award recipients for drama in Emmy history, 96% have been white. Eighty-seven percent of lead actor awards for comedy have been white as well. For women the numbers are similar; 96% of recipients for both lead actress in a drama and lead actress in a comedy have been unanimously white.

To put that into perspective, in the past 24 years, there has only been one non-white Emmy award winner for the lead actor in a drama, lead actress in a drama, and lead actress in a comedy awards.

I believe in being recognized for merit, not just circumstance. I’m sure every Emmy in the history of entertainment was certainly well deserved. However, there is a reason behind the diversity gap in award winners.

Viola Davis, 2015 winner of the best actress in a drama and an African-American, said some profound words when accepting the award: “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Let’s think about that, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

What are some of your favorite shows? How many of the characters in those shows are white? I’m going to guess the answer is most of them.

People have been talking about representation in media a lot lately. Marginalized groups have been seeing more of themselves in pop culture. Nonetheless, they are often stereotyped or made into a controversy.

Take, for example, the LGBTQ+ population. Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox are taking strides to represent transgender individuals, but the controversy around their existence overshadows who they actually are.  This isn’t a new trend; it has been happening to openly gay celebrities for years.

Representation of minority racial groups is not much better. A study done by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism looked at minority representation across top-grossing films in the past few years. The study found that in the 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8 percent of characters were black. The next highest minority group was Hispanic, reaching only 4.2 percent of roles.

Oddly enough, the same study found that of the movie tickets bought for those same 100 films, 44 percent were bought by non-white people.

There is an issue in television and film when nearly half the paying audience is underrepresented.

To consider Davis’ point, there are just not enough roles for minority actors and actresses in entertainment today. This is an issue that relates directly to the writers. Mindy Kaling and Shonda Rhimes cannot be the only people writing roles for non-white actors.

Viola Davis’ speech should be a call to action for all television and film writers. Scripts must be developed using characters of all ethnicities. In today’s culture, a show or film will not be successful incorporating an all white cast. It is unrealistic and shows a lack of good judgement and effort.

Minorities exist, and the media should represent them.

While I can’t wait to binge watch the last season of Mad Men as soon as it hits Netflix, I hope that the near future will bring some added diversity to the TV Guide.

 

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