While the movie industry has come under increasing pressure over lack of diversity and questions around representation, television has provided a somewhat more diverse landscape for people of color.
At the same time, TV has a ways to go, as Sunday’s Emmy Awards demonstrated. In its 69th year, the Emmys still included several “firsts.”
Lena Waithe, along with Aziz Ansari, won best writing for a comedy series for the “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None.” Waithe’s win made her the first African American to win in the category. She was also the first black woman to be nominated in the category, which Ansari won last year.
Donald Glover won best director for a comedy for FX’s “Atlanta,” making him the first black director to win in this Emmy category. Only three black directors have previously won in the drama category (Thomas Carter, “Equal Justice”; Eric Laneuville, “I’ll Fly Away”; and Paris Barclay, “NYPD Blue”).
Glover also won for best lead actor in a comedy series, breaking the two-year running streak of Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon’s “Transparent.” The first and only other time a black actor won best lead actor in a comedy was Robert Guillaume in 1985 for “Benson.”
In addition to first wins, Julia Louis-Dreyfus set a record: She won best actress in a comedy for the sixth time in a row for her role on HBO’s “Veep.” She now has the most Emmys of any single performer for one role, beating the previous record held by Candice Bergen for “Murphy Brown.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” also made history with its best drama Emmy: It was the first streaming show to earn that trophy.
And Sterling K. Brown won for best lead actor in a drama series for “This Is Us.” Three other black actors have won in this category, but none since 1998.
Riz Ahmed won best lead actor in a limited series or movie for his role in HBO’s “The Night of.” He is the first male actor of South Asian descent to win an acting Emmy. In 2010, Archie Panjabi won best supporting actress for her role on “The Good Wife,” making her the first South Asian to win an Emmy.
During his acceptance speech, Ahmed thanked two groups — South Asian Youth Action and the Innocence Project — for helping him prepare for the role. His character on the series is charged with murder.
“It’s always strange reaping the rewards of a story based on real-world suffering,” Ahmed said. “But if this show has shown a light on some of the prejudices in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that’s something.”