Television's Increasing Diversity Can't Stop Here
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Television's Increasing Diversity Can't Stop Here

With diverse 2016 Emmy winners like Rami Malek, representation in TV grows stronger each year.

Television's Increasing Diversity Can't Stop Here
Mike Blake/Reuters

Over the years, legendary actors from James Gandolfini to Bryan Cranston have won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. This year’s recipient of the award, however, was different than most.

Rami Malek – who won for his brilliant portrayal of enigmatic, antisocial Elliot Alderson in techno-thriller Mr. Robot – is the first non-white actor to win this award in 18 years. This means that every single person who’s won this award since 1998 was white. In fact, 97 of the 99 actors nominated in this category since 1998 were white – that’s 98 percent.

With over 400 scripted TV series airing in the US in 2015, Malek’s win comes at a time when television is in what many consider its “golden age.” But the television industry is accomplishing more than just mass production of new TV shows, it’s ushering in a precedent of diversity that film and TV have been missing for centuries.

This year’s “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy, inspired by the Academy Award’s lack of diversity, highlighted Hollywood’s failure to recognize people of different races. All of the nominees in the acting categories were exclusively white.

In contrast, 24.6 percent of the Emmy’s acting nominees this year were non-white. Three of the four actors to win in the limited-series categories this year were black, including Regina King of “American Crime Story,” who became the first person to ever win back-to-back awards in any limited series or movie acting category. Indian Aziz Ansari and Taiwanese Alan Yang won for writing comedy series Master of None. And then, of course, there was Malek.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Viola Davis said in her 2015 acceptance speech for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Davis was the first black woman to ever win this award.

Although wins like Davis’ and Malek’s are shattering age-old glass ceilings, there’s still a long way to go in the entertainment industry’s quest for diversity. Because Davis is right. Diverse actors cannot win, let alone be nominated, for roles that don’t exist. Nor can diverse viewers find characters to identify with.

Malek may’ve broke a centuries-old institution with his win, but so what? If we don’t continue to achieve and transcend the precedent set by this year’s Emmys, it won’t matter.

Which is why we must keep shattering those glass ceilings, keep writing characters that reflect the diverse society in which we live, keep giving actors of all races equal opportunity, keep ridding ourselves of the “us-versus-them” mentality that unfortunately plagues our everyday lives.

“I play a young man who is, I think like so many of us, profoundly alienated,” Malek stated in his acceptance speech. “But I want to honor the Elliots. Because there’s a little bit of Elliot in all of us.”

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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