Opinion

Award shows provide oversimplified solutions to systemic biases

The Emmys are just around the corner, and the internet is abuzz with speculation. Is “Game of Thrones” going to make a clean sweep with its record-setting 23 nominations? More importantly, will Queen Cersei – long may she reign – be crowned winner of the battle for Best Drama Supporting Actress?

There’s also the question of whether Jimmy Kimmel will be able to top Chris Rock’s DVR-worthy hosting of this year’s Oscars. Rock highlighted the media’s lack of diversity, and that controversy has yet to subside. The somewhat homogeneous landscape of the awards stage pervades, tainting the polished hue of the golden Emmy.

Part of what made Rock’s performance so brilliant was his approach – he made a bold statement about a hot-button issue in the way in which only comedians can. His joking social commentary and biting wit set the show apart from tedious, excessive politicizing.

Kimmel, on the other hand, doesn’t face such an uncomfortable situation heading into the Emmys. People are rolling out the red carpet for the #EmmysSoDiverse due to its drastically more inclusive roster.

“Of 98 nominees in 16 categories, 21 are actors of color, including Aziz Ansari of ‘Master of None,’ Taraji P. Henson for ‘Empire,’ Kerry Washington in ‘Confirmation’ and Cuba Gooding Jr. from ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson,’” according to E! News.

This suggests that Hollywood can surmount systemic racism to recognize diverse talent. Marginalized groups are still, however, pushing for recognition from a broader audience. After all, past winners “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” exemplify the recent inclusion of different sexual orientations and gender identities in the American narrative.

When award shows  attempt to celebrate diversity, they often don’t go far enough. Consider specialized shows like the NAACP Image Awards and Alma Awards. They can give off the false impression that society has fully overcome its failure to represent minorities in film and television. Larger strides must be taken.

Despite the focus on diversity in Hollywood, awards are still influenced by other biases. The Emmys favor big studio shows and movies. The proof lies in the fact that judging body accepts free DVDs and advanced screening passes instead of bothering to venture out to find lesser-known, but often more ground-breaking, material.

Without attempting to diversify the nominated shows and movies and the types of roles available, the Emmys mission to “foster and reward excellence in visual media … set standards of creativity, innovation and integrity and honor through peer recognition” strikes us as incomplete.

Raising awareness of  industry biases shouldn’t detract from entertaining the audience or celebrating the art. It is noble to throw a little social activism into the mix of the Emmys glitz, so long as it’s done in a lighthearted way. However, award shows run the risk of falling into the same trap as late-night talk shows (John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, looking at you) that try to influence politics do: overestimating the impact of their platform on society.

Whoopi Goldberg phrased it best when she de-emphasized the role of award nominations.

“The issue is that there aren’t enough movies with diverse casts getting financed and made,” Goldberg said.

In order to foster meaningful change that will be reflected in future award shows, these advancements need to occur.

Adrianne Babun-Chavarria is a senior majoring in biology and English.

September 14, 2016

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Adrianne Babun-Chavarria


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