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Emmy Nominations Prove That Industry Has a Long Way to Go to Recognizing Black Talent Behind the Scenes

As word of this year’s 67th Emmy nominations hit news circuits, reactions were mixed with the usual nods of approval and frowning complaints even though the TV academy made history with an impressive 18 Black nominees for acting.

That said, Thursday’s announcement yielded a big snub to Lee Daniels’ smash hit drama Empire, which despite its widely celebrated success and record-domination in viewer ratings only earned three nominations. With Taraji P. Henson being recognized for her performance as outspoken Cookie Lyon, the other two nominations are nods to the costume team and their work for the series.

Let it be known that Empire has one of the highest viewer ratings of a television series since 1991 with its season finale peaking at an astounding 17.6 million same-night viewers. Though the show has drawn a few criticisms from members of the Black community for its portrayal of the “drugs, hip-hop and violence” stereotype, numbers don’t lie. Fox’s Empire is a new fan favorite.

Henson, along with Viola Davis of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder have made history as the first two Black women to compete for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Could there be hope for one of these two women even if the award has never been awarded to a Black woman before?

Speaking of women, last year Uzo Abuda won best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Orange Is the New Black, and now the Netflix original series is considered a drama with Abuda as the only actress representing the show in the main categories again this year.

While nods for Black men in television may be less than those of Black women this year, Oscar winner and creator of American Crime John Ridley did earn two nominations for his writing. For comedy, Andre Braugher, Keegan Michael-Key and Tituss Burgess have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series; Anthony Anderson received a lead actor nod for his comedic performance in Black-ish; And actor Michael K. Williams was nominated for his supporting role in HBO’s Bessie.

Besides a heavier male presence, what is really missing are the nods for Black writers, producers and directors. It seems that while Black faces reign on-screen, behind the camera the writers, executive producers and creators are generally white.

This year, the Emmy’s managed to give two nominations to Dee Rees for writing HBO’s Bessie. The film centers on singer Bessie Smith’s transition from struggling performer to “Empress of the Blues.” Queen Latifah adds more recognition to Bessie with a nomination for her role as the blues legend.

Power couple singer Beyonce and rapper Jay Z have also received an Emmy nod for Outstanding Special Class Project for their concert, Beyonce and Jay Z On the Run.

Also, Lawrence Davis earned his Emmy nod for hairstyling for HBO’s Bessie. Rashida Jones also received an Emmy nod for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking as Co-Producer for Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted; Greg Phillinganes was nominated for serving as musical director Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life – An All-Star GRAMMY Salute.

The 2015 Prime Emmy Awards ceremony will be held Sept. 20.


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