The 2021 Emmys Winning Circle Is Very White

The 2021 Emmy Awards blessed our screens with a variety of diverse presenters, lively skits and hosting duties from Cedric the Entertainer, the honoring of the legendary Debbie Allen with the Governors Award, an impassioned speech about diversity from Frank Scherma, the president of the Television Academy ... and barely any winners that weren't white.

Until the awarding of "RuPaul's Drag Race" for Best Competition Show, the Emmys went a whopping 115 minutes before honoring a show with a person of color at the forefront. (Important to note: Ali Barthwell was part of the Emmy Award team of writers for "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," but John Oliver is the lead of the show). The hashtag #EmmysSoWhite started trending about halfway through the broadcast, with plenty just straight up shutting off the show in disappointment and frustration.

Dear Emmys, Impact vs. Intent is Important

Perhaps what makes the lack of laurels for people of color even more painful is knowing this year's Emmy nomination class is the most diverse in history. The 2021 show saw an increase of 17% more people of color nominated for major awards, with a record-setting 49 nominees in the acting and reality hosting categories.

Courtney B. Vance, Dave Chapelle, and Maya Rudolph all won awards for guest acting performances, which are not broadcast live but are instead presented during the Creative Arts Emmys a few days prior to the primetime event. This means that all of the acting awards presented on television were given to white performers, while Black acting awards were relegated to being read about in the trades.

Is it really "an honor just to be nominated" when every major acting award was given to a white performer?

The Emmys Can Do Better

"RuPaul's Drag Race" won the Emmy for Best Competition Show. Now with 11 wins overall, RuPaul as both the host and producer of the show has now broken the record for the most Emmy wins by a person of color and the reality competition show the most Emmy-decorated. This is a step in the right direction, but it's telling when the person of color most decorated in Emmy history has won all of the statues for the same show.

Following a long-winded acceptance speech by "The Queen's Gambit" showrunner Scott Frank, Michaela Coel was announced as the winner for Best Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for "I May Destroy You." Coel took to the stage and delivered a powerful message about "writing what scares you" and dedicating her speech to survivors of sexual abuse, doing more with her allotted 45 seconds than just about anyone else all night save for Debbie Allen and Jean Smart. 

It was so powerful, in a sea of predominately white people thanking other white people, that someone finally said something of merit. "In a world that entices us to browse the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility, these days, seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while," Coel said. "And see what comes to you in the silence."

Look, I'm not trying to say that the actors featured in "Ted Lasso," "The Queen's Gambit," "Hacks," and "The Crown" aren't remarkably talented performers. But I am saying it is atrocious that, in a historic year of dynamite performances, the Academy continued to place higher value on white performers.

Inviting people of color to present is not enough. Giving speeches on the importance of diversity rings hollow when there aren't accolades to back up the sentiments. The Emmys need to do better. Period.