Emmy nominees 2016 are #EmmySoDiverse, with racially charged shows centre stage

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Roots, American Crime and black-ish all nominated, two black actresses face off in drama lead category, and Aziz Ansari in line for comedy awards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 12:05pm

The takeaway for the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards could very well be #EmmySoDiverse.

Nominations for the awards, announced on Thursday, went to racially charged dramas such as The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Roots, American Crime and the movies Confirmation and All The Way.

Comedies with sharp-edged observations about race such as ABC’s black-ish and Netflix’s Master of None also received several key nominations, including best comedy, where they will compete against more mainstream favourites such as Modern Family and Veep.

In contrast with this year’s Oscars, which became embroiled in controversy over the lack of nominations for minority actors, Emmy nominations provided a wealth of recognition for minorities, particularly African Americans.

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Thursday’s nominations arrived on the heels of a deluge of protests and raw emotional outpourings regarding the killing of several black men at the hands of law enforcement, and the slaying of five Dallas police officers by a black sniper. Race has taken centre stage in the US national dialogue, spurring debates surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom many see as polarising.

More than a dozen ethnic minority performers landed in the Emmys’ marquee acting categories. Half of the nominees for lead actor in a limited series are black.

The ceremony will also feature a repeat showdown of last year’s contest in the lead actress in a drama category between Viola Davis (ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder), who won, and Tariji Henson (Fox’s Empire). It made history as the first time two African American actresses had been nominated in that category.

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Prominent on the Emmy diversity front is the FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a critically acclaimed docudrama recreating the murder trial of former American football legend O.J. Simpson.

The project scored a total of 22 nominations, including limited series, lead actor (Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson and Courtney Vance as defence attorney Johnnie Cochran) and supporting actor (Sterling Brown as prosecutor Christopher Darden and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian).

The series will face off against ABC’s American Crime, which explored the racial and class tensions around the rape of a male student at an elite high school, and the History channel’s Roots, the reboot of the landmark ABC mini-series tracing the ancestry of an African warrior who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Joining Gooding and Vance in the lead actor in a limited series category, is Idris Elba (Luther).

The other major breakthrough was ABC’s black-ish, a series about a multi-generational African American family grappling with life in an upper-class, predominantly white neighbourhood.

The show, which received only one major nomination last year in its first season, landed in the best comedy category. Anderson scored his second nod for lead actor, while Tracee Ellis Ross was nominated for lead actress.

The strong showing of black-ish is particularly noteworthy as the series tackled provocative subjects, including police brutality and the use of the N-word by both whites and blacks.

Also in the best comedy category is Master of None, starring Aziz Ansari as a struggling New York actor coping with personal and professional woes. Ansari, who also landed a lead actor and a directing nomination, has been outspoken this year, lobbing criticisms at CBS for the network’s lack of diversity and at Trump for his negative comments about Mexicans and Muslims.

Historic studies of race-related events were also singled out. HBO’s Confirmation, about the battle between Anita Hill and her former employer Clarence Thomas, and All The Way, about the uneasy alliance between President Lyndon Johnson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, were both nominated for television movie, along with the mystery movie Luther.

Kerry Washington, who portrayed Hill in Confirmation, and Audra McDonald, who played Billie Holiday in HBO’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, were nominated for lead actress in a limited series or movie.

The supporting actor in a comedy series category included Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele).

Regina King, who won last year for supporting actress in a limited series for American Crime, was nominated again in the same category for playing a different character in this year’s instalment. Bokeem Woodbine was nominated for his portrayal of a smooth-talking criminal in Fargo.