International Emmys Attendees Talk Inclusion, Accessing Global Narratives

Ronny Chieng International Emmys - Getty - H 2019
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'Crazy Rich Asians' star and ceremony host Ronny Chieng spoke about telling diverse stories in and outside of America's "unique cultural landscape," while International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences CEO Bruce Paisner tackled streaming's role in making foreign stories available to wider audiences.

The increasing diversity and accessibility of international stories — and streaming's role in fostering that — was a theme among presenters and nominees at the 2019 International Emmy Awards on Monday night in New York.

The last several years have seen a boom in funding for international show development by streamers, with the likes of the Netflix-backed Lust Stories and Sacred Games as well as the Amazon-supported Beat sprinkled throughout the 47th Annual International Emmys nominees and winners lists.

"I think because there's just an enormous amount of platforms out there now, it's allowing international content to be lifted by really high-profile, well-respected content providers who can reach more American audiences," actress and category presenter Kim Fields told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet.

For Carter star and presenter Jerry O'Connell, the globalization of storytelling isn't just impacting streaming services. It's also leaving a mark on U.S. broadcast and cable shows.

"[Carter] wouldn't be on the air if it wasn't for our AXN channel group, which is our international channel group, and our U.K. channel group, specifically the al1bi channel," said the actor. "We just wouldn't have a show if we didn't get funding from those international outlets. It's a different world these days."

International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences president and CEO Bruce Paisner told THR that the addition of streaming platforms has helped the international market and the awards show itself expand in the U.S. Mo Abudu, chair of the 47th International Emmy Awards Gala, agreed and pointed to how these platforms have cultivated a generation of younger viewers more eager to "embrace content from any part of the world."

"We're growing in accessibility because of streaming," Paisner said before Monday's ceremony. "People in all countries are seeing a lot of programs from other countries, and now we're really seeing our common humanity because of that."

Kellan Lutz and Tamara Tunie, who both presented during the ceremony, similarly championed the awards show and streamers for their recent work, increasing Americans' exposure to narratives with more globally inclusive casts or made by creatives from outside the U.S.

"I think it's an opportunity to experience what's happening around the world and what beautiful work is being done in various countries, but also how the human story is the same everywhere," Tunie told THR. "It's wonderful that the technology has allowed us to be able to be a part of somebody else's story."

Bringing global audiences closer together is, in many ways, a gateway to getting more representative and inclusive stories. Ugandan-British actress Zawe Ashton noted that her projects had received a boost from the increased interest in international narratives.

"I feel like I'm in a very privileged position at the moment to have two plays centered around the black female experience — specifically the African diaspora experience — run," Ashton said while speaking to THR. "Cracks are starting to appear in the earth, and we've been filling those cracks with water and new seeds. Have the trees grown to full height yet? No. But are the cracks appearing? Yes."

Gala chair Abudu supported Ashton's statement, noting that a shift in narrative interests has been about getting more globally representative voices in the room. "It's always about changing the narrative, and the only way to change that narrative is to be part of the conversation. If you're not at the table, if you're not in the room, nothing's going to change." Abudu told THR.

Much of the talk during the ceremony, from host and Crazy Rich Asians star Ronny Chieng to several winners' acceptance speeches, echoed the messages on the carpet. A number of award recipients, including the Brazilian team behind shortform series winner Hack the City, emphasized representation in their acceptance speeches.

"This TV show is about giving visibility to the minorities," said director Wladimir Winter Nobrega de Almeida. "Refugees, the LGBTQ community, black people's rights. It's about giving visibility for everyone's rights. My country especially needs that."

Others winners — including the teams behind Falco, Dance or Die and Especial de Natal Porta dos Fundos (The Last Hangover) — acknowledged the ideological and political turmoil in their own countries or made nods to America's current political landscape. Host Chieng cracked a few jokes in the same vein.

While speaking to THR about his International Emmys hosting gig, the Chinese comedian and Daily Show correspondent underscored the way American culture produces narratives in a way that doesn't necessarily exist in the international storytelling landscape being honored on Monday night.

"I think America is a unique cultural landscape," Chieng said. "I think obviously you can compare it to other countries to some extent, but I think what we have here in America is so unique in terms of telling stories and being seen. Like seeing Asian people onscreen in America is still a very relative new thing, but in Asia, it's obviously everywhere."

Leaning into narratives that normalize the visibility of identities marginalized in American television helps string together a web of authentic stories that more people connect with. "I think authenticity and storytelling resonate across cultures," Chieng said. "That's why we have this stuff like Parasite, The Farewell, even Black Panther. You can watch non-American stuff and feel something, and I think doing that changes perspectives."

This year's ceremony awarded a total of 11 statuettes and two special awards. Somali-American philanthropist, author and former model Iman presented the International Emmy Directorate Award to Christiane Amanpour, host of PBS' nightly global affairs show Amanpour, describing her as "a star steward of facts." The International Emmy Founders Award went to Game of Thrones creators and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Conleth Hill, who played Lord Varys on the popular and record-setting HBO series, introduced the two, noting the show's historic impact not just in television viewership records or its massive 59 Emmy wins, but in being broadcast in 207 territories and countries and simulcast in 194.

Among the night's big category winners were Haluk Bilginer of ?ahsiyet, who won the award for best performance by an actor, and Marina Gera (Örök Tél), who won the best actress International Emmy. The final award of the night for drama series went to the Cuba Pictures-, BBC-, AMC- and Amazon-supported U.K. show McMafia after a somewhat dramatic start to the evening saw the honor unexpectedly announced during the very first category after an envelope mix-up.

Despite this and other small bumps, the evening and its winners graciously celebrated their works and their ability to expand visibility of those in their own countries to people beyond their borders.

"At the end of the day, we're all human, and the art that we do is tied to our craft and not tied to us as human beings," Pose actress and International Emmys presenter MJ Rodriguez told THR on the awards carpet. "And there's always more that could be done for representation, and it can start anywhere — including overseas and internationally, but the world is seeing more new vibrant work right now through these nominees, and I'm glad that I could present for them."