With the release of 2016 Emmy Award nominations, social critics have taken note of the increased diversity among performers and television series, as well as the roles for which minority performers are selected.  While noting a clear need for a broader range of roles, this year’s nominees represent a third consecutive year in which non-White performers earned a substantial number of nods.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his work on the London crime solving miniseries “Luther.” (Courtesy photo)

Much of the relief comes on the heels of protests following the 2016 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ceremony in which only White actors and actresses were chosen for the top four categories — for the second year in a row.  The resulting outrage by some Hollywood notables and the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite unleashed a storm of criticism against the Academy for its lack of diversity and inclusion. In response Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is Black, vowed to increase the diversity of the awards.

“The issue surrounding the Academy Awards was so much deeper than just being acknowledged and included issues surrounding representation and stereotypes, access to casting agents, and having a seat at the scriptwriting table,” native Washingtonian Brian Gaston told the AFRO.  “When you keep seeing criminals on television and they are Black males, you have to examine the writers, the casting, and the motives of the shows.”

Gaston, said that with Black men showing up on shows like AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” which became a powerful acting vehicle for rapper Common, and comedians Key and Peele on the FX show “Fargo,” the range of roles showed improvement as well.

“You get a show like “Luther,” starring Idris Elba as an unconventional crime solver, set in London, nominated against Black men building America’s railroads, two police officers tracking a serial killer, and Courtney Vance in the O.J. Simpson story, it’s amazing,” Gaston told the AFRO.  “It shows the depth of the actors, but also the potential Black men have for being something other than suspects in the minds of White America.”

The announcement on July 14 of more than 20 non-White performers for this year’s Emmys also had the actors talking – many of whom turned to their social media feeds to voice their surprise.

“I am floored that I’ve been nominated but I am even more excited that Luther has been nominated as well,” Idris Elba tweeted after learning both he and the show “Luther” had secured nominations.  “The success of ‘Luther’ is so much due to the fans and I hope they are as proud of this nomination as we are.”

Courtney B. Vance reacted with similar excitement over his nomination for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” posting “It was an opportunity of a lifetime to work with such a dream cast and to portray a man like Johnnie Cochran. To receive an Emmy nomination today is the continuation of this phenomenal journey and is indeed a true blessing and honor.”

Black performers saw a high point in 2014, with the Emmys, that they had not seen since 1977 when Alex Haley’s miniseries “Roots” earned nine nominations (and wins for Olivia Cole and Louis Gossett Jr). In 2013, Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope in ABC’s “Scandal” landed her a best actress drama nom — the first for a Black actress since Cicely Tyson for NBC’s “Sweet Justice” in 1995. (Washington earned a second nom last year as well.)

Kenya Barris, creator of the series “Black-ish” which garnered nominations for its lead characters portrayed by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, told People Magazine, following the nomination announcement that the time for diversity on all levels had arrived.

“The idea of inclusion is a word I wish didn’t exist because I feel like everyone is included in this space because we are all of one,” Barris said.  “But I do think until it’s a well-known thing we have to use words like that. I’m glad we are part of that conversation.”

The non-White actors nominated also include Rami Malek, Mr. Robot (lead actor, drama series); Kerry Washington, “Confirmation” (lead actress limited series/movie); Bokeem Woodbine, “Fargo” (supporting actor limited series/movie); Regina King, “American Crime” (supporting actress limited series/movie); Tracy Morgan, “Saturday Night Live” (guest comedy series actor); and Mahershala Ali, “House of Cards” (guest drama series actor).