It was a good year — if not a perfect year — for diversity of talent in front of and behind the camera in this year’s Emmy nominations. And that continued with the winners. There came a moment when the nominees for Best Drama Directing were being named — Reed Morano won for the “Handmaid’s Tale” pilot, “Offred” — when I thought to myself, “There are three women nominated for an Emmy for directing, just in this one category, and one of them won — so why are the Oscars so bad at this?” (Check out the complete list of Emmy winners here.)
I won’t pretend that there is full gender equality in the TV industry — Morano is only the second woman ever to win Drama Directing — but three women nominated for that award didn’t make headlines because female directors earning Emmy nominations aren’t particularly uncommon. But do you know what you call three women nominated for Best Director at the Oscars — 75% of all women ever nominated for that Oscar. You have to sift through the last 24 years to find the most recent three women nominated in that Oscar category, and in this golden age of TV it’s certainly not because of quality. I’d put Reed Morano’s work on “Handmaid’s Tale” up against most Oscar lineups for Best Director in the last 15 years.
“Big Little Lies” swept the longform awards, including Best Limited Series. Its writer (David E. Kelley) and director (Jean-Marc Vallee) are both men, but the project was produced by its stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon; Kidman and her fellow Emmy winning co-star Laura Dern both discussed the dearth of female roles in their acceptance speeches. “The Handmaid’s Tale” also won Best Drama Series in addition to Morano’s win, and though its creator is a man (Bruce Miller), half of its episodes had female writers, and the majority of its episodes had female directors. Then there’s “Veep,” which won Best Comedy Series for the third year in a row with a female lead actor (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who is also a producer.
And it’s not just women. It was also a good night for people of color. Lena Waithe (“Master of None”) became the first black woman ever to win Best Comedy Writing, alongside her co-writer Aziz Ansari, an Indian-American who has now won two Emmys in a row for his scripts. Donald Glover became the first black winner for Best Comedy Directing. Glover also won Best Comedy Actor — in fact, all three leading men who won Emmys this year were people of color: Glover, Sterling K. Brown (Best Drama Actor for “This is Us”), and Riz Ahmed (Best Movie/Mini Actor, “The Night Of”).
So I came away from these awards wondering, when the Emmys can have a night like this without even much fanfare, why is it like pulling teeth to get a fraction of this representation at the Oscars? The TV and film industries are different, but they’re essentially parts of the same larger Hollywood ecosystem, so how is it that we even have shows like “Atlanta,” “Master of None,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Big Little Lies” when we still need to explain in 2017 that, for instance, whitewashing Asian characters isn’t okay, or that white savior characters are kind of condescending? We’re having new conversations with our TV shows these days, but we’re still having the same old arguments with our movies.
I don’t want to pat the TV industry on the back too much — I mean, they did greenlight “Confederate.” I also don’t want to minimize how momentous “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” were at the Oscars. And I don’t have a prescription to cure Hollywood’s ills. I just felt that, watching the Emmys this year, I had a better idea of what an industry might look like when more people get to speak and more of those people are actually listened to. But let’s not take this for granted. As Bruce Miller said in his acceptance speech for Best Drama, “Go home and get to work. We have a lot of things to fight for.”