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This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As the excitement of TV’s biggest night draws closer, it’s crucial that we examine the cavernous absence of diversity and full inclusion in the TV awards conversation. The industry long has avoided the subject, perhaps even ignored it! The last series with a non-white cast to win the comedy Emmy was The Cosby Show in 1985. The last woman of color to take the comedy actress prize was Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) in 1981. Today, with the groundbreaking impact of Orange Is the New Black, it’s time for Emmy to not only redefine what a winning comedy is but also what “Emmy worthy” looks like.
I did a play called Eclipsed that told the story of five African women in war-torn Liberia. The director, writer and members of the main production team were diverse women. I wouldn’t have this experience again until five years later when I was cast in Orange, the Netflix series that uses the setting of a women’s prison to unite dozens of distinct, robust female characters, a first for television.
Growing up, I had to look at separate pockets of TV to find versions of myself, from characters like Khadijah (Queen Latifah) on Living Single to Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) on Sex and the City. With Orange, the mix of women — black and Latina, white and Asian, transgender, gay, straight — reinforces a new reality: Their stories matter, too.
Series like Orange and Scandal happen because creators such as Jenji Kohan and Shonda Rhimes are brave enough to try to change the landscape with bold words and casting choices. Working on our show often feels like that moment when Dorothy’s house lands in Oz, she opens the door and suddenly a mix of colors floods the screen. She didn’t realize what she’d been missing.
A nomination for Scandal‘s Kerry Washington last year was one step in Emmy’s journey toward equality. Hopefully, with Orange, the TV Academy also will see fit to open its door toward a more colorful future.
Uzo Aduba plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
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