Emmys stumble awkwardly: TV’s biggest night exposes showbiz racism, ageism


Tina Fey and Amy Poehler saved an awkward Emmy show opener with a few well-timed twerk jokes. But then Fey stumbled onto the stage throwing her cleavage out of alignment, and the show never quite regained its footing.

No matter how badly Neil Patrick Harris (nee TV’s “Doogie Howser, M.D.”) tried to make the Emmys look like the Tonys, it was just awkward all around.

That was especially true after Merritt Wever of “Nurse Jackie” won the first award for supporting actress in a comedy series. Wever upset the category favorite, “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara, perhaps the best real chance for a person of color to win anything on this night.

In shock, Wever gave an acceptance speech that was all of 11 words:

“Thanks so much. Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye.”

Short and sweet. Maybe all the winners should tweet their speeches next year.

The big official winner on the Emmys–in the best drama category–was “Breaking Bad.” I admit I just started watching the show this year, but I frankly was taken aback when it seemed like all the other shows on TV in terms of its stunning lack of diversity.

During the season premiere I ironically tweeted:

Asian Am. sighting on #BreakingBad. AA woman says: “Barndoor open.” Speaking part. AFTRA minimum? Another example of Hollywood’s diversity! — Emil Guillermo (@emilamok) August 12, 2013

Indeed, if Emmy honors television’s finest, shouldn’t diversity be a factor?

Or maybe diversity doesn’t matter to the Emmy folks at all.

Besides the Indian American actress Mindy Kaling, who has a current show on Fox, was there even another Asian American presenter, nominee, or winner on the awards show?

Meanwhile, perhaps the most renowned living Asian American TV actor featured in an iconic role, who has never won an Emmy, was not even in Los Angeles.

George Takei, Sulu on “Star Trek,” was out in Cincinnati, doing his thing in the wacky world called showbiz.

At 76, doing the chicken dance? Hopefully, the television academy will take the time to honor Takei, the exemplary actor/civil rights activist, while he’s still alive. And when they do, let’s pray they do more than give him a photo op with an unknown cellist playing mournfully in the background.

Takei is simply too deserving to wait for the usual Emmy kiss-off.

This year, there certainly was a lot more death on the program than normal–you might say that death became the Emmys.

The mini-obit/tributes were like signposts throughout: Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton, James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith.

Cory Monteith?

Monteith apparently caused a stir among some Emmy vets, since such a death tribute for a young kid seemed to be a slap in the face of the achievement of real pioneers like Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman, who also died last year.

To honor Monteith after a drug overdose was a bit odd. Was it a reminder to the youth that they aren’t invincible? Or was it a bit of what I call “demographic niche mourning” on the part of the Emmys?

The generational awkwardness that seemed to run through the show is worth noting this year. “The Newsroom” star Jeff Daniels, an upset winner over Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” and Kevin Spacey of “House of Cards,” even mentioned AARP in his acceptance speech.

But it was Ellen Burstyn who hammered home the point about ageism and TV. Looking lovely at 80, Burstyn accepted her supporting actress award for “Political Animals,” thanking the writers for remembering “women over 65 who still have a lot of juice.”

This is the problem with actors both of age and of color. While they live forever in the last thing you saw them in, if they aren’t constantly working, you need to be reminded that they aren’t dead yet.

Or they are.

During the obit slide show, I was reminded of the death last year of Russell Means, the American Indian Movement’s leader at Wounded Knee. I forgot that he was also an actor and had appeared in the show “Banshee” last year on Cinemax, as the character Benjamin Longshadow. He was 72 when he died.

To see his face flash by for even a few seconds is more than Native Americans get on shows like the Emmys.

And to accent the plight of non-white actors, Mean’s show “Banshee” also featured an Asian American actor Hoon Lee. All you Hoon Lee fans, you may have first noticed him in “Sex in the City,” as Dr. Mao, Charlotte’s acupuncturist.

Perhaps none of those would have been considered Emmy-worthy performances, but that’s why when you see Kerry Washington up for best actress in a drama, it’s worth hoping for a breakthrough.

It wasn’t to be last night for Washington, who was given a kind of consolation prize–the honor of escorting Diahann Carroll to the stage. Still stunning at 78, Carroll was the first African American actress to star in her own series where she did not play a domestic worker. She was nominated for an Emmy for the show, but only won a Golden Globe in 1968.

As a young boy, I remember “Julia” as the TV show that first taught me how beautiful African American women were. (Am I allowed to confess my massive crush on Diahann Carroll?)

This is the power of TV, which was later emphasized when the Emmys brought out the great actor Don Cheadle to show clips of the MLK speech and march 50 years ago juxtaposed with clips later that year of the JFK assassination.

We know how TV can inform, engage, and entertain once we turn it on.

But we forget how it brings us together as one, all watching the same thing, the same events, the same shows. TV has the power to integrate and create that perfect village.

One wonders how different things might be if the primetime TV we all watched incessantly were as diverse as real life?

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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