“There’s a lot of things going on this year, so you forget that things like this can happen,” three-time Emmy winner W. Kamau Bell admits about scoring his seventh Emmy nomination for his acclaimed CNN documentary series “United Shades of America.” “Not that I didn’t wake up on that day and check and refresh my browser every few minutes,” he jokes, adding with a smile about the fierce competition in his category, “I’m totally prepared to lose to Oprah Winfrey, I think my mom would be mad if I beat Oprah Winfrey!” Watch our exclusive video interview with Bell above.
Bell started out as a stand-up comic, parlaying his unique voice into hosting thought-provoking TV series like FXX’s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” from 2012-13 and his latest CNN series “United Shades of America,” which has aired on the cable network since 2016.
The series focuses on the experiences of minority or marginalized communities across the country, whether that be Black Americans, Latinx communities, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community. As Bell travels the country to investigate the lives of the various people and cultures within the American melting pot, the show contemplates and exposes the social injustice, economic disparity, racism and prejudice lurking beneath the surface.
“United Shades of America” has won three Emmys to date for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and is now up for Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special. Bell himself has also been nominated twice before in the catch-all Best Reality Host category in 2017 and 2018.
The show’s fifth season, which started airing on CNN in July 2020, focuses on a variety of topics, from public schools, the gig economy, Iranian-Americans, reparations, Venezuelans in South Florida and the homeless in LA. One of the highlights of the season was its second episode, “Where Do We Even Start with White Supremacy,” which opens with still-confronting footage from a previous episode of the show, perhaps its most well-known, in which Bell spent time with the KKK. It then shifts perspectives from that overt form of white supremacy to contemplate potentially more insidious underlying systemic and cultural forms of white supremacy, particularly in middle America.
“I’ve learned over the course of this series, over the course of the last few years of living in America that it’s not the most harsh end of white supremacy generally if it shows up on your front lawn,” he explains. “Your average Black person is going to be able to steer clear of that kind of white supremacy. But you’re not going to be able to steer clear of the medical industry or the prison system or the education system and how they are using white supremacy or the media in your town,” he says. “So for me I really did think of this as a sequel to that episode to say like that’s one way of looking at it and I get that that gets the clicks and the headlines, but this is actually the more interesting and more important way to look at it.”
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