Emmys outrage: African Americans shockingly shortchanged in acting races

If Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad“) wins the Emmy this year for Best Drama Supporting Actor, he will be the first African-American to ever prevail in this race. While that statistic is shocking, what’s even more outrageous is the lack of African-American nominees and winners throughout the 63-year history of the Emmy Awards. 


Of the more than 700 Emmys awarded to performers, only 36 spread across 14 categories have gone to African Americans — that’s about 5%. In addition to Drama Supporting Actor, they have been shut out of Best Drama Actress and Best Comedy Guest Actress. (VIEW GALLERY)

Besides Esposito, Gold Derby is predicting that this year African Americans will be contending for: 

Best Movie/Mini Actor: Idris Elba (“Luther”); 
Best Drama Guest Actress: Loretta Devine (“Grey’s Anatomy”); and 
Best Comedy Guest Actress: Maya Rudolph (“Saturday Night Live”)

Of this quartet, only Devine is forecast to prevail. She won this category last year and then, as now, was the only African American to prevail in one of the 16 acting races at the Emmys. (Don Cheadle is thisclose to getting into the Comedy Actor category for “House of Lies.”)

Who will win Best Drama Guest Actress?

Log your predictions in all top Emmy races. Compete against experts!

Bill Cosby broke down the color barrier when he won three back-to-back Drama Actor awards for “I Spy” beginning in 1966. However, he chose not to submit his name for consideration for his top-rated laffer “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s. 

 Gail Fisher made history as the first African American actress to win an Emmy with her 1970 Drama Supporting Actress victory for “Mannix.”

But in the intervening four decades, wins have been few and far between in most of the categories. Indeed, there are stretches of years when no African American even competed in some of the acting races. 

African Americans have been most often recognized in Movie/Mini Actress with five women winning: Cicely Tyson (“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” 1973); Lynn Whitfield (“The Josephine Baker Story,” 1991); Alfre Woodard (“Miss Evers Boys,” 1997); Halle Berry (“Introducing Dorothy Dandrige,” 2000); and S. Epatha Merkerson (“Lackawanna Blues,” 2005).

Tyson is the most recent of the four African American women to win Movie/Mini Supporting Actress taking the prize in 1994 for “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” The earlier winners were: Olivia Cole (“Roots,” 1977); Esther Rolle (“Summer of My German Soldier,” 1979); and Ruby Dee (“Decoration Day,” 1991)

Woodard was the second of four African Americans to win Drama Supporting Actress with her 1984 victory for “Hill Street Blues.” The others were Madge Sinclair (“Gabriel’s Fire,” 1991) and Mary Alice (“I’ll Fly Away,” 1993). 

Woodard also won two of the four Emmys that went to African Americans for Drama Guest Actress — “L.A. Law,” 1987 and “The Practice,” 2003 — with Beah Richards (“The Practice, 2000) and Devine (“Grey’s Anatomy,” 2011) being the others. 

Woodard contended for Comedy Supporting Actress in 2006 for her single season on “Desperate Housewives.” She lost that race which has had only one African American champ ever — Jackee Harry for “227” in 1987. 

And Woodard is one of only four African American women to even be nominated for Drama Actress with her 1986 bid for “St. Elsewhere.” The other three contenders were: Debbie Allen (“Fame,” 1982 – 1985); Regina Taylor (“I’ll Fly Away,” 1992 – 1993); and Cicely Tyson (“Sweet Justice,” 1995).

Andre Braugher is just one of two African American men to win Movie/Mini Actor. He prevailed in 2006 for “Thief” (which had aired as the first and only season of a series) while Louis Gossett, Jr. won an earlier iteration of this category in 1977 for “Roots.”

Braugher had won Drama Actor in 1998 for “Homicide: Life on the Street” but not even this Emmy favorite could prevail in the Drama Supporting race when he contended in 2010 and 2011 for “Men of a Certain Age.” 

James Earl Jones won Drama Actor in 1995 for “Gabriel’s Fire” but lost the Supporting Drama Actor race that same year for “Under One Roof.”

Jones was the first of two African American men to win Movie/Mini Supporting Actor for “Heat Wave” (1991) with Jeffrey Wright (“Angels in America,” 2003) being the other. 

Robert Guillaume won both the supporting and lead comedy Emmys for playing an acid-tongued butler, first on “Soap” (1979) and then on “Benson” (1985). He is the only African American man to win either of those awards. 

Isabel Sanford remains the only African American women to win Best Comedy Actress, claiming the prize in 1981 for the third of her seven consecutive bids for “The Jeffersons.”  

Four African American men have won Drama Guest Actor: Laurence Fishburne (“Tribeca,” 1993), Paul Winfield (“Picket Fences,” 1995), Charles S. Dutton (“The Practice,” 2002); Charles S. Dutton (“Without A Trace,” 2003); and Glynn Turman (“In Treatment,” 2008). 

Not even eventual EGOT champ Whoopi Goldberg could win Comedy Guest Actress with her 1991 nod for “A Different World.” She was the second of three African American women to go down to defeat in this race; the others were: Diahann Caroll (“A Different World,” 1989); and Ruby Dee (“Evening Shade,” 1992).

Beah Richards did win the combined Comedy Guest Actor/Actress race in 1988 for “Frank’s Place.” Roscoe Lee Browne had prevailed two years earlier for “The Cosby Show” and Cleavon Little won the first ever Comedy Guest Actor Emmy for “Dear John” in 1989. 


See Emmy predix of top TV Experts

Videos: Exclusive chats with Emmy contenders

Join fierce discussion in forums

Earliest Oscars predictions ever: Our Users forecast winners

Who should swap Emmy categories?

Give back Oscar for acting badly

More News from GoldDerby