James Corden joked while hosting the 2016 Tony Awards, “Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity.” Well, the 2016 Emmy nominations didn’t have quite the diversity explosion of the “Hamilton”-fueled Tonys, but they clearly were way ahead of the last two Oscars, which with a few exceptions may as well have been called Straight White Men at the Movies.
Leading the way among dramas was “Mr. Robot,” the technological thriller whose creator (Sam Esmail) and star (Rami Malek) are both of Egyptian descent. The series earned six nominations overall, including bids for Esmail for Best Drama Series and Best Drama Writing and one for Malek in Best Drama Actor.
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”), who made history last year as the first black Best Drama Actress champ, is back with another bid this year, as with returning Drama Actress nominee Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”). And Emmy-winning “House of Cards” guest Reg E. Cathey picked up a return nom as well.
However, reigning champ for Best Drama Supporting Actress Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) was unexpectedly left out. “Orange,” which boasts one of TV’s most diverse casts, was dropped from almost all categories, picking up just a single bid for Best Drama Casting — ironic given the across-the-board snub of the cast.
Among comedies, “Black-ish” made an impact. After earning just one nomination last year (Best Comedy Actor for Anthony Anderson), it grew this year, adding bids for Best Comedy Series and Best Comedy Actress (Tracee Ellis Ross). But that was it for the show. The acclaimed episode “Hope,” penned by Kenya Barris, was absent from Best Comedy Writing.
And “Master of None” broke through in its first season. Created and written by Indian-American Aziz Ansari and Taiwanese-American Alan Yang, “Master” is nominated for Best Comedy Series, Best Comedy Actor (Ansari), Best Comedy Writing (“Parents” by Ansari and Yang) and Best Comedy Directing (“Parents” by Ansari).
The long-form categories were dominaated by “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” the true-crime drama about the trial against football star-turned-murder suspect Simpson. It earned 22 nominations total, making it the second most nommed program of the year. Cuba Gooding Jr. contends for Best Movie/Mini Actor for playing the title role, as does Courtney B. Vance as his famous defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. As prosecutor Christopher Darden, Sterling K. Brown contends for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actor. There was good news behind the camera as well: Joe Robert Cole is up for Best Movie/Mini Writing, while Anthony Hemingway and John Singleton are up for Best Movie/Mini Directing.
“American Crime” exceeded expectations in 2015 with 10 nominations, but it under-performed this year. Created, produced and written by Oscar-winner John Ridley, the ABC anthology series about discrimination and justice contends again for Best Limited Series, and its reigning champ for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress, Regina King, is back in that category to defend her title, but Ridley is absent from both writing and directing contests.
As expected, the History Channel’s remake of the 1977 landmark slavery miniseries “Roots” earned a nom for Best Limited Series. But it had mixed results overall. It earned seven nominations total, including a bid for Laurence Fishburne‘s voice-over narration, but none of its actors, writers or directors earned noms.
There were strides made even in the reality contests. Steve Harvey (“Little Big Shots”) and RuPaul Charles (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) are first-time nominees for Best Reality Host, a category that has been won by white performers every year.
“Key and Peele” is nominated for the second year in a row for Best Variety Sketch Series, joined once again by “Portlandia,” produced by and starring Fred Armisen, who is of part-Venezuelan descent. Armisen also leads another Variety Sketch nominee, “Documentary Now,” but they’re the only people of color who star in Variety Series nominees. Larry Wilmore (“The Nightly Show”) and Trevor Noah (“The Daily Show”) were snubbed in the talk show race. What’s more, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” wasn’t even able to break through, which means the Emmys’ lineup of best talkers remains entirely white and male.
One other major blind spot for these Emmy nominations was Hispanic representation. While we weren’t expecting major noms for NBC’s “Superstore” or “Telenovela,” we thought there was a chance Golden Globe-winner Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”) could break through for Best Comedy Actress with three slots opened up in that race, but “Jane” only reaped a single return bid for its narrator Anthony Mendez.
The absence of “Orange is the New Black” from Best Drama Series was also a major shortfall because it features numerous Hispanic performers. Also missing: Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and Guatemalan/Cuban Oscar Isaac (“Show Me a Hero”), who couldn’t break through even though they won the Golden Globes for their performance in January. However, Oscar Nunez (“The Crossroads of History”) was recognized in the new category for Best Short Form Actor.
The above list isn’t comprehensive, which is good news in and of itself — there are enough nominees of color that it’s hard to name them all, return nominees as well as numerous first-timers. Even the fact that there were many others who could have (and probably should have) been nominated is a testament to the increased number of options on television relative to film these days. That’s cause for celebration, though of course there is still room for improvement.