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The Emmys Still Fail the Diversity Test

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

I don’t ever expect to see an Emmy awarded to celebrate diversity on television. It would be nice, but as a person of color, you have a better chance of recognition if you’re dead than excellent.

I didn’t see many people of color winning anything on Sunday night. It was more so a “happy to be presenting” or a “happy to be nominated” type of event.

However, there were two diversity moments worth noting—one was during the obit slide show, which reminded me of the death of Russsell Means, the American Indian Movement’s leader at Wounded Knee. I forgot that Means was also an actor, and most recently appeared in the show “Banshee” last year on Cinemax. He played the character Benjamin Longshadow.

Means was 72 when he died.

To see his face flash by for even a few seconds is more than Native Americans get on shows like the Emmys.

Though Means and his non-White co-star, Asian America actor Hoon Lee, did not have roles that would have been considered as Emmy-worthy performances, there’s still hope for a breakthrough when you see someone like Kerry Washington up for best actress in a drama for her lead role in “Scandal.”
Unfortunately, instead of winning the award, Washington was given a kind of consolation prize—the honor of escorting Diahann Carroll to the stage.

Still stunning at 78, Carroll was the first African-American actress to star in her own series in which she played a nurse. She was nominated for an Emmy in 1969, but only won a Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Television Series” in 1968.

As a young boy, I remember “Julia” quite well. It was the very first TV show that taught me how beautiful African-American women were.  (Am I allowed to confess my massive crush on Diahann Carroll?) At the time, I was attending an all-Black junior high school, so I had no problem acting out my fantasies. But once my family moved from one neighborhood in San Francisco to another, I noticed how my friends all changed from Black to White. When “Julia” ran its course, and with diversity lacking on TV, I just didn’t see very many other non-White faces. Life was on a different channel.

This is the power of TV that we always seem to miss out on. We all know how TV can inform, engage and entertain us. But we forget how it also brings us together, all watching the same thing, the same events, the same shows.

TV has the power to integrate, to create that perfect electronic village. But from what we see on prime time, how can that goal be achieved if television constantly fails to depict the true diversity in our society?

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him on Facebook at or on Twitter @emilamok.

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