'Black-ish' actress wears Nike shirt to Emmys

Actress Jenifer Lewis showed support to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick by wearing a Nike shirt to the Emmy Awards.

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 11:05 AM
Updated: Sep 19, 2018 11:26 AM

Monday night's Primetime Emmys were the first since the Harvey Weinstein expose broke last fall. It was the first of the post-#MeToo period.

Given that the Television Academy received some flak for choosing two men to host the show -- "Saturday Night Live"'s Colin Jost and Michael Che -- I was curious to see how the ongoing reckoning with the abuse of powerful men (and a few women) would be handled.

The situation was made worse by Che's tone-deaf reaction to Louis C.K.'s return to stand-up comedy last month, when he suggested that C.K. had suffered long enough and should be allowed to return to his profession and earn money.

Che clearly never gave a thought to the suffering of C.K.'s female victims, or even how audience members might feel (some of whom may have been victims) when C.K. appeared unannounced to do a standup set and proceeded to make a rape joke.

There seems to have been an effort made by the producers of the Emmys not to have an overabundance of Jost and Che during the show, and instead to rely on their former "SNL" colleagues, Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, for backup.

This was most obvious during the opening number, performed not by Jost and Che, but instead by a diverse ensemble of actors who were decidedly not white men, including Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Sterling K. Brown and Ricky Martin.

This number set the tone for the show, which seemed to want to simultaneously proclaim the Emmys' expanded diversity -- this year featured the most diverse group of Emmy nominees ever -- and satirize the notion that true diversity had been achieved and that its historical racial exclusion had been solved.

It also offered one of the few #MeToo references of the show, alluding to the ways that abusive men have not been held truly accountable— "Now they're serving hard time in that Arizona spa. ...They've been away nine whole months, now let them all come back."

Much later in the show, Australian comic Hannah Gadsby (whose Netflix standup show "Nanette" made major waves this summer in terms of the #MeToo reckoning) wryly joked that she got the gig "just cuz I don't like men" and "#NotAllMen, but a lot of 'em."

In addition to arguably stealing the show, Gadsby's bit was particularly interesting to consider in light of what appears to be Che's dismissal of "Nanette" when it dropped on Netflix. Beyond these isolated instances, I also found it notable that not one of the winners, male or female, mentioned or even alluded to #MeToo or #TimesUp in their speeches.

Instead, there was a much larger focus on the broader issue of diversity and inclusion within both the creation and production of television and its reception and recognition.

Thus, in addition to the opening number satirizing Hollywood's self-congratulatory attitude with regards to diversity, Che embarked on a "Reparations Emmys" tour of black comic TV legends from past decades, including Marla Gibbs, Jimmie Walker, and Kadeem Hardison.

Nonetheless, once the awarding of trophies began, it became clear that the diversity of nominees did not necessarily extend to the winners, who were overwhelmingly white, particularly in the comedy category.

When people think of "diversity" they're most often referring to racial diversity. However, what was equally troubling was the fact that all the major awards went to one show: the charming Amazon period comedy "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." This is a different type of diversity problem: when one show monopolizes the awards.

In the era of "peak TV," I would argue that it's highly problematic to give all the awards within a particular genre to one show.

Yes, it's true that HBO's "Barry" won the two male acting awards, but this was in part because "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" has no male lead.

But to give both female acting awards, and the writing, directing and best comedy awards to "Mrs. Maisel" means denying recognition to equally deserving shows, namely "Atlanta," whose brilliant second season is, I would argue, even more compelling than its first.

"Atlanta" didn't deserve to win best series because it's a "black" show; it deserved to win because of its incredible emotional range -- episodes this season evoked the hilarity and absurdity of "Seinfeld" ("Barbershop"), the fear and darkness of grief ("The Woods") and a bizarre, ultimately tragic commentary on black stardom ("Teddy Perkins") -- and because it's one of the most innovative shows ever made.

The drama category was much more evenly spread out, with actors from four different shows winning -- Matthew Rhys for "The Americans," Claire Foy for "The Crown," Peter Dinklage for "Game of Thrones," and Thandie Newton for "Westworld."

"The Americans," "The Crown" and "Game of Thrones" similarly split the writing, directing and series awards. And while I personally was pulling for a sweep by "The Americans," which has been so thoroughly ignored by the Emmys in previous seasons and which pulled off a near-perfect final season, there is, objectively, much more value in spreading the awards out among various shows, particularly at a time when there's such an embarrassment of riches on television.

Tim Goodman, chief TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter, has long argued that the Emmy nominations need to be extended to 10 nominees per category, in order to recognize the huge expansion of quality shows in the past decade. While an important step, this wouldn't necessarily solve the issue of one show sweeping. There was an unexpectedly diverse group of winners in 2016, but last year saw a sweep by "The Handmaid's Tale" in the drama category. It's my hunch that the more diverse the Television Academy becomes (in terms of not just race but also age, gender identity and sexuality), the less often sweeps will happen because of the greater plurality of perspectives among voters.

Diversity may have been the theme of this year's Emmys, but the results were a mixed bag. Yes, the comedy winners were overwhelmingly white and dominated by one show. However, the FX miniseries "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace" also won several major awards, which was a step forward not only for LGBTQ representation, but for a diverse form of storytelling (the series used a reverse chronological format and upended the audience's expectations regarding who would be the focus of the story).

Diversity can be measured in myriad ways, but one thing is certain: spreading out the awards among various shows is guaranteed to yield better results by recognizing a multiplicity of voices and perspectives.

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