Kerry Washington stars on one of the hottest shows on TV. The second season finale of her critically acclaimed ABC political drama “Scandal” topped nine million viewers last week. Yet she sits in the seventh slot on our list of the potential six nominees for Best Drama Actress at the Emmys. If she can reap a bid, she is spoilt for choice when it comes to which single episode to submit to the jury that determines the winner.
So, why is she not a frontrunner? Could it be racial bias?
After all, Washington stars on the highest-rated series among the top tier of women vying for Emmy recognition. “Scandal” is generating lots of buzz, meriting the covers of Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide. And she got great reviews: Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) said, “she owns every moment she’s on camera, and is completely believable as someone who’d feel comfortable charging into the Oval Office to yell at the Commander-in-Chief” while EW called her “a stunning scene stealer.”
The TV academy has a shameful record of recognizing African American women in leading roles on drama series. Only four have even contended in this race — Debbie Allen (“Fame”; 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985), Alfre Woodard (“St. Elsewhere”; 1986), Regina Taylor (“I’ll Fly Away”; 1992, 1993) and Cicely Tyson (“Sweet Justice”; 1995) — and none won.
Allen lost first to Michael Learned (“Nurse”) and then for three years running to Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey”). Woodard was bested by Daly’s co-star Sharon Gless. Taylor lost to Dana Delaney (“China Beach”) and then Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”) who also defeated Tyson. While these women were worthy enough, where was the outcry over the exclusion of African American actresses from the winners circle?
That no African American woman has even contended for Best Drama Actress since 1995 is shocking. Yes, they are rarely given the opportunity to headline their own shows but when they do, surely they merit Emmy consideration.
Oscar nominee Angela Bassett did some of the best work of her stellar career on the final season of “ER” but was snubbed. While the medical drama “HawthoRNe” had its problems, star Jada Pinkett Smith was outstanding. Likewise, Khandi Alexander in the critical darling “Treme” which has been ignored by the academy much as “The Wire” was.
Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) broke the color barrier for women at the Oscars at the 74th annual ceremony in 2001. That she did was due to the rising awareness of this blot on the motion picture academy’s record.
Isn’t it time that TV academy voters do likewise?