Black Voices

Black Voices: Zendaya won an Emmy — will this propel more awards for Black artists?



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Zendaya in HBO's "Euphoria." Tribune News Service

Zendaya became the youngest and only the second Black woman to win the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as Rue Bennett in “Euphoria.” 

Viola Davis was the first Black woman to win this award when she won her Emmy in 2015 for her role as Annalise Keaton in “How to Get Away with Murder.”

"And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there," Viola Davis said in her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech.

I am equally happy, disappointed and hopeful about the current state of award shows.

I grew up watching Zendaya on Disney Channel and was partially inspired by her to pursue acting and film. Now she has won a prestigious award at such a young age, proving that the best is yet to come. This makes me happy. 

But I am disappointed because it took this long for two Black actresses to win in this category, though there have been many talented Black actresses on TV in years past.

Recently, films with 31-40% minority cast enjoyed the highest median global box office gains. Household ratings for broadcast shows had more than 30% minority casts. However, only two out of every 10 lead actors in a film, and 2.2 out of every 10 lead actors in a television series were BIPOC, according to the 2019 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report 2019.

Another factor in the lack of diversity in award nominations is who votes on these nominations. 

In 2015, April Reign created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in response to the striking lack of Black people nominated for Oscars that year.

Reign said this year it’s still inadequate. This is not just because of a lack of movies featuring BIPOC characters and stories, but because the committee that votes on these nominations is still overwhelmingly white.

As of January 2020, the breakdown of the academy membership was 84% white. Reign said she believes in a meritocracy, rewarding those who deserve it. However, if those voting on who deserves awards aren't watching all of the deserving films, they can’t put forth an accurate vote on the films.

However, I am hopeful this will change in the future.

The academy itself is attempting to tackle this issue with its new Representation and Inclusion Standards for Best Picture eligibility. There are four overall standards, two of which must be met for a film to be eligible to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

The large requirement categories are Creative Leadership and Project Team, Industry Access and Opportunities and Audience Development and On-Screen Representation, Themes and Narratives.

Filmmakers can choose to fulfill any of the two, including the sub-requirements for each.

This will cause a lot more controversy when these requirements officially go into effect for the 96th Oscars in 2024. However, it is a good effort on the part of the academy as it works on being more inclusive.

In other awards areas, there have already been noticeable changes in the nominations and awards for Black creatives.

Even this year, Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Black people were at a record high, coming in at just more 34% — a significant leap from 2019’s 20% and the previous record 27.7% in 2018.

There is a receptive audience for diverse content.

IU sophomore Brianna Bryant is hopeful about Zendaya's win.

“I think it’s great she won, she really did deserve it," Bryant said. "She’s very talented. I think there is definitely a chance more Black women will win because anyone can do anything if they want it bad enough.”

She expressed a sentiment similar to April Reign’s.

“Honestly, I think the work should speak for itself, so if their work has lots of views and have a big following, then they should be nominated," Bryant said.

It is time for BIPOC artists to make a bigger splash in the landscape of award shows.

I am glad to see there is finally beginning to be more well-deserved recognition for all the work Black artists have been doing.

Uplifting Black stories, perspectives and art from IU and Bloomington. Reach out at blackvoices@idsnews.com.

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