The lack of diversity in Hollywood, both in terms of race and gender, was a burning issue leading up to the 2015 Emmys, and it wasn’t swept under the rug at the awards show. Instead, the problem was brought to the forefront from the very beginning of the event, starting with host Andy Samberg’s opening monologue, and culminating in an impassioned acceptance speech from Viola Davis, the first-ever African-American actress to win for a lead role in a drama series.
Samberg kicked off the show by announcing that it was “the most diverse group in Emmy history” and congratulating Hollywood. “Racism is over. Don’t fact-check that!” he quipped.
The fact-check came when, as Samberg paused, the camera flashed a shot of the audience, as shown in a tweet from CNN contributor Rachel Sklar below, making it clear that we still live in a time in which minorities are vastly underrepresented at the Emmys.
— rachelsklar (@rachelsklar) September 21, 2015
Apparently, Samberg must have seen the same thing, because he continued: “Of course, given our history, being more diverse than ever isn’t always saying that much.” He likened it to Jackie Robinson’s first baseball game, joking that the sport’s commissioner might have said, “This year’s Brooklyn Dodgers are more diverse than ever in history.”
From there, the actor next touched on gender on TV, satirizing how the industry treats men and women. He brought up the wage gap between sexes hired for major Hollywood roles. “Wait. I misread that. The age gap between men and women hired for major roles in Hollywood is still an issue,” he said, pausing. “I misread that again. It’s both. Still both.”
While funny, the joke and the show itself were a reminder of an ongoing problem. Prior to the Emmys, a study by the Women’s Media Center came out revealing that female nominees are still outnumbered by men 3-to-1 in writing, directing, producing, and editing, as reported by Deadline. In spite of making up roughly half the population, women don’t fill an equal share of these key positions, and thus aren’t getting as many nominations either.
Not only that, a 2015 study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film found that women get a lower percentage of speaking roles than men do; they account for only 40 percent of these roles on broadcast, cable, and Netflix programs. Looking at that 40 percent, though, reveals another disparity. Women of color are particularly underrepresented, accounting for only 27 percent of those speaking female characters — to say nothing of starring roles.
When Davis took the stage to accept her award for lead actress in a drama series on Sunday night, she focused on this topic. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” She went on to thank those in Hollywood who are helping redefine female leads, directly naming several, including her fellow nominee Taraji P. Henson, who hugged Davis vigorously after the win.
It was a touching moment, one many members of the audience were visibly moved by. Although Davis’ emotion and Samberg’s humor were very different approaches, they both successfully called out Hollywood for its lack of diversity — and hopefully spurred on the industry’s slow progress.
Watch Davis’ acceptance speech is below.
- 2021 Emmy winners: Who took home the big awards?
- The most surprising Emmy winners and nominations of all time
- Emmy’s blind spots: actors and series that should have them, but don’t
- Here are the 2020 Emmy Awards winners
- Most influential Hispanic Americans in Hollywood’s film industry