The Emmys Reveal the Truth About TV and Film for Black People

September 18th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

The Emmy Awards are doing something that the Oscars didn't: recognizing people of color in its nominations. About 25 percent of the nominees for Sunday night's Emmy Awards are people of color, according to CNN.

The nominations this year include actors from different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.

Rami Malek from USA's MR. Robot is Egyptian-American, Aziz Ansari from Netflix's  "Master of None" is Indian-American, Kate McKinnon from NBC's Saturday Night Live is a lesbian and so is Sarah Paulson from F/X's "The People v. O.J. Simpson." 

That doesn't mean the Emmy Awards have managed to overcome the industry-wide problem of a lack of diversity: Tracee Ellis Ross is the first Black woman to be nominated in 30 years for outstanding lead actress.

Only 36 percent of the speaking roles on broadcast TV went to women, and only 26 percent of broadcast and digital streaming TV shows had regularly appearing minority characters, according to a study earlier this year by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which analyzed more than 400 films and TV shows.

The Academy Awards nominations came out earlier this year, and the nominees — especially in the acting categories — so lacked diversity that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended for the second year in a row.

The contrast between the Oscar and Emmy nominations underscores a truth about the entertainment industry: Minorities have historically had more prominent roles and better representation in TV than in film.

The '90s were generally considered the last "Golden Era" for Black sitcoms. "The Cosby Show" broke viewing records when it aired starting in the '80s.

Here are just some of the hit shows with Black casts on American network TV in the '80s and '90s.

  • "The Cosby Show" (1984-1992)
  • "A Different World" (1987-1993)
  • "Family Matters" (1989-1998)
  • "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (1990-1996)
  • "Martin" (1992-1997)
  • "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" (1992 -1997)
  • "Living Single" (1993-1998)
  • "Sister Sister" (1994-1999)
  • "Moesha" (1996-2001)
  • "The Jamie Foxx Show" (1996-2001)

Cultural blogger Rafi D'Angelo wrote about the success of '90s Black sitcoms and the lack of diversity that crept back onto TV in the 2000s.

"I miss seeing Black people on TV. I say it often and loudly to anyone who will listen. My memories of growing up watching TV included tuning in to see a variety of faces that looked like mine. There were Black sitcoms ('Martin,' 'Living Single,' 'A Different World') and sitcoms that just happened to have Black casts ('The Cosby Show,' 'Family Matters'), but we were represented. Today, aside from subpar offerings from Tyler Perry’s cadre of mediocre actors and treacly plotlines, Black people have been relegated to the background as supporting actors in largely white casts."

It's true that the Emmys have recognized more people of color than the Oscars, but it's also true that TV — and the movies — still lack prominent roles for minorities and women, both in front of and behind the camera.

RELATED: The Oscars Made a Record Breaking Move to Fix Its Diversity Problem