What the 67th Emmy awards revealed about women of color in TV

The 67th primetime Emmy awards happened this past Sunday, and while I opted out of watching it live in favor of the premier of the last season of Downton Abbey (many tears!), a tweet that night from CNN contributor Rachel Sklar was cause enough for me to drop my cup of tea back into its saucer and assume an immediate air of exasperation:

It’s not really a shock that this problem still exists in Hollywood, an industry that has shoved the thin, male, white standard of success and beauty down our throats from day one. At About-Face, we’ve published quite a few blogs knocking the film and television industries for their frail attempts at healthy and accurate gender representation (here, here, and here), but more complicated and just as important is the disparity of racial representation within the world of women directors, writers, and actresses. Where identities intersect, there are always groups with more privileges than their counterparts.

Case in point: a 2015 study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that approximately 40 percent of speaking roles on broadcast, cable, and Netflix shows belong to women; of that 40 percent, women of color only account for 27 percent of speaking roles.

I abandoned my math skills somewhere in the back of a 10th grade statistics class, but my guess is that those are some pretty dismal numbers. And if that’s a collection of ALL the roles on major broadcast networks, that means that minority actresses are at a huge disadvantage come awards night.

So how did all of this affect the 67th primetime Emmys?

Well, this year’s winners didn’t reflect the pool of nominees. Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder, top left) became the first Black actress to receive an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black, second from bottom right) was recognized as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. It was, on the surface, a night filled with diversity milestones.

But, again, I’d like to direct you back to the above image. There are a total of 12 nominee slots for Drama actresses at this awards show, and only 25% of them were filled by women of color. (That math was slightly easier for me, although equally angering.)

And this doesn’t even touch on the issues faced by women of color who write, direct, or otherwise occupy behind-the-camera roles: that bracket is already overwhelmingly dominated by men, which means that minority women face two layers of privilege they must overcome to even make it onto the list of nominees.

What I’m hoping will come from Sunday’s show — from Viola’s and Uzo’s wins in particular — is an understanding of how far we have left to go in the fight for equal representation for women of color in television. The fact that 2015 was the first year a Black actress claimed a Lead Actress victory on the Emmys stage should be a rallying cry, not a sign that the struggle is over. In the words of Viola herself: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”


Caitlin recently graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California with a degree in Politics and is now About-Face’s Online Presence Program Coordinator. In her free time, she enjoys going to the gym, wishing she lived in Rome, and reminding everyone that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is, in fact, far superior to the men’s side.

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