Monday, September 19, 2016

67 Years of Funny White Women in the Lead

The 68th annual Primetime Emmy Awards aired Sunday night.
For so long, we had waited for a chance to be considered the Best Leading Actress in a Television Series. Cheers came loud and proud from Debbie Allen to Kerry Washington to sistahs in between. Last year, at last, Viola Davis shattered predominantly white glass ceiling by winning coveted Best Actress trophy for her remarkably layered performance as Annalise Keating on ABC's How to Get Away With Murder. It took sixty-seven years to honor a black woman-- which was a lot sooner than the thirty-two years for a Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series.
Yet here we are, after sixty-eight years, stuck with pathetic results-- one black woman winner for lead in a drama, one black woman winner for lead in a comedy.

Isabel Sanford (with Sherman Hensley) with her big Emmy win.
Back in 1981, sixty-four-year-old Isabel Sanford took home the golden statue after her third consecutive nomination in the category for playing Louise "Weezy" Mills-Jefferson on The Jeffersons. She was the first black woman to win Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series.
So far, she is the only.
Diahann Carroll, Isabel Sanford, Nell Carter, and Phylicia Rashad paved a way. On the television screens, they were warm, smart, delightful, and funny-- playing major matriarch role in a slew of uplifting black family sitcoms. Generation after generation found a "mom" to call their own, a maternal hand that playfully slapped common sense into their children's naivety. In moments of despair, attentive audiences counted on these remarkable women to make us chuckle, giggle, and chortle. Sometimes they made us cry. They even made us think, question ourselves, our identities. 
Although other intelligent shows shared comedic chops from A Different World to In Living Single to Girlfriends, not one black woman could break into the Emmys five to six entry ballot often primarily reserved for white women.
Yesterday came a moment simmered in longing and desire.
After a thirty year absence, a black woman was finally accepted as a worthy nominee.

Three decades passed by and Tracee Ellis Ross (as Rainbow "Bow" Johnson in Black*ish) is nominated.....
but it's Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer (Veep) for the win. Again.
With Julia Louis-Dreyfus's fifth straight victory in this category, she beats out Mary Tyler Moore and Candice Bergen for most Leading Actress in a Comedy wins. She also holds the record for most Emmy wins out of twenty-two nominations. That almost doubles the amount of total nominees black women have received altogether. Heck, adding fuel to the fire, Louis-Dreyfus, Moore, and Bergen's combined trophies beat them out as well.
TVline's Michael Ausiello's short case for why Louis-Dreyfus needs to exit the race almost seems positive. He mentioned Bergen's polite dropping out:

In 1996, shortly after winning her fifth non-consecutive Lead Actress Emmy for Murphy Brown, Candice Bergen took herself out of the running in order to give one of her peers a shot at the gold statue.
Next sentence in, Ausiello says:

In this era of #PeakTV, a Louis-Dreyfus-less Lead Actress competition would not only allow one of her overdue rivals to grab gold, but it would create a much-needed vacancy in the six-person race, paving the way for the Michaela Watkins’ and Constance Wus and Rachel Blooms of the world to sneak in.

Constance Wu is brilliant in the wickedly humorous Fresh Off the Boat. One of several key snubs robbed of an Emmy nomination this year. Like black women, Asian women are scarcely seen as being capable of delivering weekly humor, let alone seen competition in what is seemed to be known as a white woman's sport. Hence why the yearning to be freed from stereotypical burden has been the strongest initiative in campaigning for the right of television equality and inclusivity. Women of color deserve to play more than pigeonholed constructions. If they can bring out laughs whilst dismantling white supremacy at the same time, they should not be punished or ostracized.

In 1969, Diahann Carroll (Julia) is the first African American to be nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series. The role was non stereotypical.
Isabel Sanford (with Sherman Hensley) has received seven nominations for Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series-- the most of all. This total also outnumbers the combined amount of the other nominees-- a dismal six.
Nell Carter has two nominations for Gimme A Break!
Phylicia Rashad also scored two nominations. She played Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show for eight seasons.
Perhaps the 68th Annual Emmy Awards could begin another perspective, another way of correcting a large, glaring problem when it comes to this particular category. After all, it hasn't been inclusive since America Ferrera won an Emmy for Ugly Betty back in 2007.
Emmy voters have to stop choosing the same leading white woman year after year. Same selected roster of names are tossed onto ballots each year, the same old finalists, which means the same old predictable outcome.
Let black women and other women of color have a real, fighting chance to shine.
That would give audiences something to be proud of and aspire to as well.

"When one of us wins, we all win."- Taraji P. Henson, 2015

Do better in 2017 Emmys. Do better.



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