Uzo Aduba, Viola Davis and Regina King made headlines when they took home acting awards in their respective drama categories at the 2015 Emmy Awards. The wins by three black women in one night stirred excitement — was a sea change underway, some wondered? — quickly followed by an inevitable question: is this a fluke?
Ahead of this year’s Emmys, we take a look back at the awards’ track record when it comes to diversity, focusing on representation among actors. In the graphics at the bottom of this post, we’ve documented every nominee and winner for each of the major show and acting categories for drama, comedy and miniseries since the Emmys began, more than 60 years ago. Given the ensemble casts for many of these shows, we’ve highlighted certain shows based on how much representation there is for actors of color within their casts.
A caveat: the numbers here don’t tell the whole story. They can’t account for how fleshed out the characters are on each of these shows or how many lines of dialogue each actor of color is given. Two supporting actors of color on a show like ER, with a huge ensemble cast, don’t necessarily account for as much representation as two supporting actors of color on a show like Lost, where a significant amount of time is spent developing each character. But for the purposes of this graphic, we created designations (explained in our key below) to give a general sense of how much meaningful diversity there has been among Emmy winners over the years.
And that said, the data does reveal some interesting takeaways. Here’s an overall look:
- Of the 12 nominations for actors of Asian descent, five went to Sandra Oh for Grey’s Anatomy. Of the 10 nominations for actors of Middle Eastern descent, eight of them were for Tony Shalhoub’s role on Monk.
- Two categories have seen peaks in recent years: In the past decade, the number of women of color nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy is the highest it’s been since a peak in the mid-'80s, while for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, the number of nominees is the highest it’s ever been.
Not surprisingly, there are far more people of color in supporting roles than leading ones on shows nominated for Emmys (making Davis’s win for Outstanding Actress in a Drama last year, quite literally, unique — she is the only actress of color to ever have won in that category). Among the nominee categories, Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress, for both Drama and Miniseries, have been the most diverse.
- Miniseries in general have been kinder to actors of color. Among the winners, the Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries categories are the most diverse categories. This is due in part to the subject matter of many of the nominated miniseries, which often tell historical or biographical stories that focus on minorities.
- Comedies account for some of the least diversity among acting winners — as the graph above shows, eight actors of color have won across the four acting categories, compared to drama’s 16 and miniseries’ 15. The comedy categories also have a slightly weaker track record when it comes to nominating actors of color and shows featuring people of color (in part due to the large ensemble casts on dramas). The Cosby Show, which was nominated four times, is an exception, making up almost half of the predominantly non-white comedies ever to be nominated for Outstanding Comedy. When it won in 1985, it became the first — and to this day, only — comedy or drama featuring a non-white cast to win an Emmy. Even the so-called golden age for black-led sitcoms in the early ’90s yielded no nominations for shows with predominantly non-white casts or a non-white lead, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (Home Improvement, meanwhile, received three nominations in that same era.)
Check out our more detailed, category-by-category breakdown on Emmy contenders through 2015, below.
But first! Here are some notes to guide you through:
- As the key below indicates, the top row of each graphic indicates the winners for that category. For the acting categories, an orange bubble stands for whether the nominee/winner was a person of color (we’ve included all biracial actors of color under this designation).
- The same orange bubble that denotes an actor of color also designates a show that features a predominantly non-white cast (i.e. The Cosby Show).
- Lead roles go to people of color far less often than supporting ones. With this in mind, we’ve marked shows that include at least one person of color in a leading role with a dark blue bubble. This means said actor would be eligible for Outstanding Lead Actor at the Emmys versus Outstanding Supporting Actor. (Tracy Morgan in 30 Rock, who was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor, for example, would not qualify in the leading-role category; Debbie Allen, for her role in Fame, would.)
- The light blue bubble denotes shows that include at least two actors of color in a recurring supporting role (i.e. a show like Lost) following the logic Master of None’s fictional network executive Jerry Danvers explains to Aziz Ansari’s character: on TV, there can be one person of color, but there can’t be two. These are roles where the actor is not a background player, and could feasibly be nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor. An exception was made here for Orange Is the New Black — given how intimately it focuses on each supporting actor, we’ve categorized it as “cast is predominantly non-white”.
*Note: Up until 1964, there were no genre-specific categories for comedy and drama acting awards. On the graphics below, you’ll notice the pre-1964 acting contenders repeat in both categories. For the purposes of our calculations, we looked at each nominee during those years and sorted him or her by genre. For example, Carl Lee appears twice in Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy and Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama but he is only counted once in our tally.
Since 1989, there have been two nominations for shows with predominantly non-white casts or a non-white lead: Ugly Betty in 2007 and Orange Is the New Black in 2014 (which moved to the Drama category the next year). Between 1992–2004, there were no shows with predominantly non-white casts or a non-white lead nominated for Outstanding Comedy. Notably, there were seven between 1985–1991 (The Cosby Show, Frank's Place, Designing Women) and five between 1969–1973 (Julie, The Bill Cosby Show, Sanford and Son, Room 222). Modern Family, which features more than one actor of color in a supporting role, has won for Outstanding Comedy five times, while The Cosby Show is the only show with a predominantly non-white cast or a non-white lead to ever win in the category.
Thirty-eight out of the 324 comedy nominees have featured either a predominantly non-white cast (10), at least one non-white lead (6) or more than one non-white supporting actor (22).
In Emmy history, there have been three predominantly non-white shows nominated for Outstanding Drama: The White Shadow, I’ll Fly Away and Orange Is the New Black. NYPD Blue is the only show featuring at least one non-white lead to have won for Outstanding Drama, and since 2000, the only show with a predominantly non-white cast or non-white lead to have been nominated is OITNB. Notably, from 1992–1999, there were eight nominations for shows with a predominantly non-white cast, or at least one person of color in a leading role (five of them went to NYPD Blue), and from 1980–1985, there were six (half of them went to Fame).
Sixty-four out of the 330 drama nominees have featured either a predominantly non-white cast (3), at least one non-white lead (16), or more than one non-white supporting actor (45).
This is by far the show category with the most diversity. Over the years, 15 shows with predominantly non-white casts have been nominated for Outstanding Miniseries, and a third of them have won. Peaks include 1989–2000, when 12 miniseries with predominantly non-white casts or a person of color in a leading role were either nominated or won. Just in the last four years, four shows with people of color at the centre have been nominated (Luther, Treme, The Bible), though one hasn’t won since 2000’s The Corner.
Thirty-five out of 197 miniseries nominees have featured either a predominantly non-white cast (15), at least one non-white lead (10) or more than one non-white supporting actor (10).
*Note: The Outstanding Miniseries category wasn’t created until 1973. Before then, there was a category designated as "Outstanding Single Performance", which meant a performance that only occurred for one season or even less. This eventually became the categories of Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Miniseries, which is why, as you’ll see below, those two categories begin in 1955, almost 20 years before Outstanding Miniseries would.
Only two non-white actors have ever won for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy in Emmy history — Robert Guillaume in 1985 (for Benson) and Tony Shalhoub, who won three times for Monk. (Fun fact: Guillaume is also the only actor of color to ever win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, for his role in Soap.) Twenty-eight of the 283 nominees in this category, or 9.9 percent, have been men of color. Shalhoub (who was nominated eight times for Monk), Guillaume (nominated five times for Benson) and Don Cheadle (nominated four times for House of Lies) together make up 61 percent of those nominations. No actors of color were nominated between 1989–2000.
Two actresses of color have won in this category — Isabel Sanford in 1981 for The Jeffersons and America Ferrera in 2007 for Ugly Betty. Fifteen of the 292 nominees in this category, or 5.1 percent, have been women of color. Isabel Sanford accounts for seven of those nominations, for her role in The Jeffersons. Since Phylicia Rashad’s last nomination, in 1986 for The Cosby Show, no actress of color has been nominated aside from America Ferrera in 2007 and 2008.
This ties with Supporting Actress in a Comedy as the second-least-diverse category among the acting nominees. One actor of color has won in this category: Robert Guillaume in 1979 for Soap. Twelve of the 278 nominees in this category, or 4.3 percent, have been men of color, five of whom were nominated in just the last two years. No actors of color were nominated between 1990 and 2008.
Only one actor of color has won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy in Emmy history — Jackée Harry in 1987 for 227. Twenty-two of the 280 nominees in this category, or 7.9 percent, have been women of color — 10 of them were in the period from 1981–1988, while nine have come in the last decade. Marla Gibbs was nominated five times for The Jeffersons and Sofia Vergara was nominated four times for Modern Family.
Five Outstanding Actor in a Drama awards have gone to people of color — three of these awards went to Bill Cosby for I, Spy from 1966–1968 (Cosby was also the first black actor to ever win a Primetime Emmy). James Earl Jones won in 1991 for Gabriel’s Fire and Andre Braugher took home the trophy in 1998 for Homicide: Life on the Street. Fourteen of the 275 nominees in this category, or 5.1 percent, have been men of color: Jimmy Smits was notably nominated five times for NYPD: Blue. No people of color have been nominated in this category since Braugher's nomination for Gideon’s Crossing in 2001.
When it comes to acting winners, this is the least diverse category. The only person of color to ever win here is Viola Davis, who took home the Emmy in 2015 for How to Get Away With Murder. Fourteen of the 244 nominees in this category, or 5.7 percent, have been women of color: Debbie Allen alone was nominated four times for Fame. No women of color were nominated in this category between 1996–2012; since 2013, there have been four nominations for actresses of color for Kerry Washington (twice), Taraji P. Henson and Davis.
Four actors of color have won here — Albert Paulsen in 1964 for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Edward James Olmos in 1985 for Miami Vice, Jimmy Smits in 1990 for L.A. Law and Héctor Elizondo in 1997 for Chicago Hope. Thirty-seven of the 257 nominees, or 14.4 percent, have gone to actors of color, making it the most diverse acting category, nominee-wise. Smits was nominated six times for L.A. Law and Elizondo was nominated four times for Chicago Hope.
This is the second-most-diverse acting category when it comes to both nominees and winners. Six actors of color have taken home an Emmy here: Gail Fisher in 1970 for Mannix, Alfre Woodard in 1984 for Hill Street Blues, Madge Sinclair in 1991 for Gabriel’s Fire, Mary Alice in 1993 for I’ll Fly Away, Archie Panjabi in 2010 for The Good Wife and Uzo Aduba in 2015 for Orange Is the New Black. Thirty-four of the 249 nominees in this category, or 13.7 percent, have been actresses of color, and nearly half of them have been in the last 11 years. Fisher was nominated four times for Mannix, Sinclair was nominated three times for Trapper John, M.D. and once for Gabriel’s Fire, and Sandra Oh was nominated five times for Grey’s Anatomy.
Two actors of color have won in this category: Raúl Juliá for The Burning Season in 1995 (posthumously) and Andre Braugher for Thief in 2006. Thirty-three of the 331 nominees in this category, or 10 percent, have been men of color. Given the limited nature of miniseries, not many actors in this category have been nominated more than once (though Laurence Fishburne was, three times), meaning a greater number of working actors of color are represented here than in other categories.
Five actresses of color have won in this category: Cicely Tyson in 1974 for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Lynn Whitfield in 1991 for The Josephine Baker Story, Alfre Woodard in 1997 for Miss Evers' Boys, Halle Berry in 2000 for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and S. Epatha Merkerson in 2005 for Lackawanna Blues. Twenty-five of the 326 nominees in this category, or 7.7 percent, have been women of color. Woodard and Tyson were both nominated four times each — Tyson was also the first black actress to win a Primetime Emmy.
Two actors of color have won in this category: James Earl Jones in 1991 for Heat Wave and Jeffrey Wright in 2004 for Angels in America. Twenty-four of the 210 nominees in this category, or 11.4 percent, have been men of color. Danny Glover, James Earl Jones and Don Cheadle were each nominated twice. August Schellenberg — the only Native American actor to have ever been recognized at the Emmys in the major acting categories — was nominated for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in 2007. Between 2008–2014, no actors of color were nominated.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries — the category in which Regina King won last year — is the most diverse of the acting categories when it comes to winners. Six actresses, or 14.3 percent of winners, have been women of color: Esther Rolle in 1979 for Summer of My German Soldier, Roxana Zal in 1984 for Something About Amelia, Ruby Dee in 1991 for Decoration Day, Cicely Tyson in 1994 for Castalia, Shohreh Aghdashloo in 2009 for House of Saddam and King in 2015 for American Crime. Twenty-three of the 210 nominees in this category, or 11 percent, have been women of color. Alfre Woodard was nominated five times, and Tyson and Dee were nominated three times each.
This article originally appeared on Vulture © 2016 All Rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.