As the first presenter at the Emmy Awards on Sunday night, a barefoot Seth Rogen took to the stage and fired a series of almost jokes about the audacity of the attendees gathered under a tent, wearing designer clothes and celebrating their professional achievements in the face of the pandemic: “Let me start by saying that we are far too many in this small space. What are we doing?” Rogen gave the impression that he would rather be at home, as if nothing about the night that unfolded would become particularly important. After a few more setbacks about the safety of the event, Rogen did what he was there to do: kick off Hollywood’s big attempt to return to normal by handing over Hannah Waddingham of Ted Lasso and Emmy. It was the first prize for Lasso, which dominated its categories and served as the setting for a night that felt disturbingly normal – due to its lack of diversity.
With so many strong candidates nominated this year and an increase in diversity among last year’s winners– after many years of controversy over the whiteness of the award shows – it seemed reasonable to hope for a more diverse slate of winners. I want to destroy you, a powerful and finely crafted depiction of sexual assault and its aftermath, was nominated five times but won only once when Michaela Coel wrote the story as the first black woman to win for outstanding authorship.
In his speech, Coel dedicated his award to survivors of sexual assault, but also briefly described how it feels to be not white in Hollywood: “In a world that entices us to explore the lives of others to help us better determine , how we feel about ourselves, and in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow correspond to success, ”she said. As a comment on Emmy’s attempt at visibility – where many of the nominees were not white, but the winners themselves were – it cuts, but only if you pay attention.
Of the two shows that won the most awards on Sunday, Ted Lasso feels emotionally similar Modern family, a longtime network sitcom who won 22 Emmy Awards during his 11-year run. It is easy to see and makes the viewer feel good. With pleasure The marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which went away with a few big awards in 2019, the shows are very white and not at all challenging, easy to ingest. Kronen, who practically swept most of his nominations, is cut from the same cloth as the favorite for the award ceremony Game of Thrones: a sweeping melodrama with a huge budget, lavishly specific costumes and a plot that necessitates the long view. Though Game of Thrones is set in a land where dragons are real and sorcery exists, both shows are rooted in reverent worship of ancient relics, and that kind of drama is irresistible to premium season pickers. In particular, Kronen is a thorough consideration of the problems of a bunch of white people who are anointed to the top of a very white social hierarchy by virtue of their bloodline.
Honestly, it’s exhausting to keep thinking about the lack of diversity in the winners of the award season because it’s exhausting to be disappointed year after year. Shows as the critically acclaimed Lovecraft Country, which fused Lovecraft-ian horrors with the real terror of racism in Jim Crow South, goes on to benefit from the same old stories that now feel a bit like they were made in a factory designed to create winners. Jump from Easttown, another limited series that swept the categories it was nominated in is refreshing because it focused on a blue-band community and allowed Kate Winslet to talk about hoagies and Wawa, but still centers on the age-old award-winning play for dead girls, as seen in other critical darlings as the first season of Real detective.
I can destroy you similar to 2019’s award-show treasure, Flea bag. Both are British TV shows hidden by streaming platforms, and both deal with women’s inner lives in different states of personal and professional disorder. The difference is that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character is an asshole, and the resulting show is just as funny and hilarious, while Michaela Coels I can destroy you equivalent to a 12-episode stroke in the gut that explores all possible angles in the wake of sexual assault. In 2019, Waller-Bridge won three Emmys, including excellent protagonist and excellent comedy series. In contrast, Coel won a single award, and the other two analogous awards this year went to Kate Winslet and The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix show loosely about chess, feminism and wallpaper. Expect more than a win for a show like I can destroy you, which centers on a black woman’s experience and deals with issues of race, class and sexual assault, should not feel like misleading optimism, but sadly, Emmy proved herself almost irrelevant by assigning easy-to-see mediocrity instead of the hard stuff.
It is pretty much pointless to decide what is “good” when it comes to prices because these prices are decided by a group of paying industry professionals, each with their own agendas, individual tastes and motivations. But while it may feel useless to shout out for diversity in an awards show environment, it is still very necessary. Diversifying Hollywood and the stories that people are allowed to tell in the ways they want to tell it is not a process of an overnight stay, and dismantling the structures that privilege some over the others takes more time, than anyone is willing to admit. But being nominated and then winning an award for good hard work is still recognition in one sense or another – it’s the idea that others understand what you’re trying to say and that something about it resonated. Coel’s win is still a win, but she deserved more than the Emmys are able to give right now. Maybe this time they start learning their lesson.