In many ways, the 69th Annual Emmy Awards ceremony ― aside from an unwelcome cameo from former Press Secretary Sean Spicer ― was a celebration of diversity. But that doesn’t mean the TV industry can rest comfortably on its laurels, said Riz Ahmed, who became the first man of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy on Sunday night.
In a video posted by Variety, the actor knocked down the idea that an Emmy award could counteract generations of exclusion in the TV industry.
“I don’t know if any one person’s win of an award or one person snagging one role or one person doing very well changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion,” pointed out Ahmed in a measured, thoughtful statement to the press following his win. “I think that’s something that happens slowly over time.”
Sunday was a night of firsts for creators of color at the awards show, with stars like Donald Glover and Lena Waithe also taking home historic honors. Shows that forefronted women’s stories, and female stars, won big as well, with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Veep,” and “Big Little Lies” taking home the lion’s share of the top honors.
But Ahmed’s comments ring particularly true given that, in 2017, such firsts still exist and such wins remain remarkable. These firsts stand as reminders that the TV industry, like so many American fields, has long been and continues to systemically exclude people of color and elevate the work of white people ― especially white men. Even with splashy efforts in recent years to improve representation onscreen and behind the camera, the vast majority of new TV shows still have white showrunners, and people of color are still underrepresented or tokenized onscreen.
A couple Emmys can’t change such a widespread problem.
Still, maybe it can help ― at least a little bit. Though Ahmed emphasized that a pervasive representation problem persists in the industry, he also saw hope that even individual wins like his own could help accelerate the path to inclusivity.
“If there are enough isolated examples of success,” he told reporters, “then maybe the dots start joining up and it’s not as slow a process as it sometimes is.”