Lena Waithe on Black TV's Emmy Problem: Don't Call Us "Long Shots"

ONE TIME USE ONLY - 18rep_race_W_main-LENA WAITHE - getty-inset- H 2020
Courtesy of Networks; Inset: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

After the creator of 'Twenties' and 'The Chi' voiced her frustration with a Hollywood Reporter piece on awards contenders, THR asked her to elaborate: "It's time to remind voters that there are other shows out there they should be paying attention to."

A few weeks ago, I found myself reading the Emmy forecast in The Hollywood Reporter — as I always do. Then I found myself being a little bewildered, but not surprised by the usual "frontrunners": Succession, Ozark, The Crown, Better Call Saul, The Handmaid's Tale, The Morning Show. All fantastic shows. All white as fuck. (Yes — This Is Us and Westworld are on the list, and I dig those shows, but right now I'm talking about shows with Black creators.) When it comes to comedies, except for Insecure, the list is even whiter. These lists aren't just a fun guessing game. These lists tell the TV Academy who to vote for.

Awards campaigns aren't that different from political campaigns. The more visible you are, the more likely it'll be that Academy voters will think of you when it comes time to vote. But visibility costs money. And often shows with predominantly Black casts don't have big budgets for robust campaigns. That, coupled with being absent from these lists, means that a lot of shows with majority Black talent continue to be absent at the Emmys. Awards can seem superficial, but the truth is that awards mean power. My Emmy made it possible for me to regain control of my own show. I was able to create job opportunities for people who look like me.

As white people continue to accumulate trophies and dominate the awards conversations, it makes it difficult for Black and brown people in Hollywood to gain wealth and power. The vicious cycle continues. Now don't get me wrong. We don't want pity nominations. All we want is to at least be a part of the conversation when Emmy season rolls around. We're worthy of it.

The trades are a powerful tool. It's where we turn for news, updates and awards predictions. If all the predictions are white, we shouldn't be surprised when all the nominees are white as well. With maybe a few exceptions because, as always, Black and brown people are familiar with having to be exceptional just to get one or two seats at the "roundtable."

If I made a list of Emmy hopefuls, it would probably include shows about Black and brown people, shows about the LGBTQIA+ community and people living with disabilities — such as Insecure, Dear White People, Pose, #BlackAF, Queen Sugar, Work in Progress, All American, Bigger, First Wives Club, Ramy, Betty, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Power, Snowfall, Black Monday, Wu Tang, Desus & Mero, Greenleaf, Never Have I Ever, High Fidelity, Gentefied, Cherish the Day, Vida, One Day at a Time, Los Espookys, Feel Good … the list goes on. Now, some of these shows have made appearances on the coveted lists, but they rarely fall into the "frontrunner" groups. I also find it ironic that the same trades generating these white-ass lists then turn around and do cover stories asking why awards shows are so white.

After having a lovely conversation with Scott Feinberg, who wrote that Emmy forecast, we both agree it's time to bring in more inclusive voices throughout awards season. It's no longer OK to just report on what the voters think will be nominated. It's time to remind voters that there are other shows out there they should be paying attention to, especially now. It's time for white voters to get out of their comfort zones and start watching shows about people who don't look like them. It might not change the world, but it's a start.

This story first appeared in the July 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.