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The 2020 Emmys Might Be Less Dismally White than Last Year

Shout-out to Zendaya, Issa Rae, and Ramy Youssef

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Krutika Mallikarjuna

The Academy of Television Arts underwent significant rule changes for its nominations process after 2019's dismally white winners list, and it surprisingly made a slight difference. 2020's nominations include 38 nods to people of color in major acting categories -- plus an additional three in the reality host category -- and also feature some surprising (but deserving) shows in the Best Comedy Series nominations like Insecure and Ramy. Comparatively, in 2019, there were only 26 acting nominations (including reality categories) for people of color, and among them only three winners: Jharrel Jerome for When They See Us, Billy Porter for Pose, and RuPaul for RuPaul's Drag Race

In order to ensure that quality shows and impactful performances by people of color weren't pushed out in order to shoehorn the same slate of over-nominated names (yes Ozark, I'm looking at you) in 2020, the Academy decided that the number of nominees in each category would be determined by the number of submission entries received, on a sliding scale. Ergo, if there were more than 240 submissions, the category had eight nominees; if there were 161-240 submissions, the category had seven nominations; so on and so forth.

2020 Emmys Nominations: See the Full List

However, while the Academy does seem to be course-correcting, 2020's nominations shouldn't be heralded as a major sign of progress within Hollywood. Thirty-eight nominations were received by people of color in 2018's race, and of those, only seven took home the trophy. The first Black woman to ever win Best Lead Actress in a Drama was Viola Davis just five years ago. Sandra Oh's 2018 nomination for Killing Eve was the first time a woman of Asian descent had ever even graced the Best Lead Actress category. It was only in 2017 that Riz Ahmed became the first Asian -- and Muslim -- man to win a Lead Acting Emmy for The Night Of. The Academy is just barely reaching its own prior benchmark, even with a sliding scale allowing for new voices to rise above the fray. 

Whether or not 2020's baby step will actually move television's most prestigious awards ceremony forward remains to be seen. Ultimately the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast on Sept. 20 at 8/7c, might offer a slate of winners just as tepid and bland as last year's, despite the significant increase in nominations for people determined to tell stories that don't center white narratives. But until then, at least we have several wildcards -- shout-out to Zendaya for that Euphoria nod and Ramy Youssef for Ramy -- as well as heavy-hitters like Regina King (Watchmenand Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere) to root for. 

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Sept. 20 at 8/7c on ABC.