A Record Number of Black Performers Nominated for 2020 Acting Emmys

Regina King at the premiere of HBO's "Watchmen"
Rich Fury/Getty Images

A total of 33 individual Black performers are up for every on-screen acting category.

On Tuesday, a record number of Black performers were nominated for 2020 Emmys. A total of 33 individual Black performers are up for every on-screen acting category, with Giancarlo Esposito, Maya Rudolph and Sterling K. Brown each nominated twice. In fact, there’s at least one Black performer recognized in all the acting categories -- including voice work -- except Outstanding Voice-Over Performance. 

According to Variety, "This is a notable increase from last year, when Black actors made up 19.8% of the nominee pool, as well as an increase from 2018, when there were 27.7% Black actors nominated -- the previous highest percentage in the Academy’s history."

"This type of representation is a long time coming. There's no shortage of talent within the Black community," Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who is up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role on Watchmen, told ET by phone. "Sometimes it takes certain circumstances in the world for people to open their eyes and people to open up, to widen their periphery. You know, to widen their point of view to see what's on the shows that they wouldn't have normally watched... I'm really, really proud to be a part of this crop."

Most notably, Watchmen, HBO’s superhero series starring Regina King and the first modern TV show to depict the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is up for 26 awards. In addition to Abdul-Mateen II, other acting nominees from the series include King, Jovan Adepo and Louis Gossett Jr.

Other notable nominees include last year’s Lead Actor in a Drama Series winner, Billy Porter, who is up for the same Emmy again. “It’s a blessing and a gift to be part of this moment where my art and my activism meet. Pose represents hope and is a reminder of how powerful ‘we-the-people’ are!” he said in a statement to ET. 

Meanwhile, Tituss Burgess, who is up for his fifth Emmy nomination for playing Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the subsequent Netflix film Kimmy v. The Reverend, noted how being recognized this final time "strikes differently." 

"It’s been a rough year for all of us," he continued. "This honor is about more than acknowledgement. It’s about motivation to be my most authentic self so I can create authentic work. This news has lifted me in ways I did not anticipate! Much love and gratitude to the Academy and my Kimmy family."

“This is my first individual Emmy nomination and I am humbled and grateful to the Television Academy for this incredible honor and for recognizing the importance of this story," Octavia Spencer said of being up for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

She added, "Today, more than ever, we all have a responsibility to enlighten, educate and entertain an audience and it was a privilege for me personally to portray Madam CJ Walker, someone who resonated so deeply with me on every level. Thank you to Netflix, Springhill, Warner Bros. Television and Wonder Street Entertainment for being such great partners on this passion project.”

Jeremy Pope, who earned his first career Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Hollywood, was equally reflective of his defining moment.

“Thank you to the Television Academy, my entire Hollywood family, and to Ryan Murphy for giving me my television debut. My heart is full," he said in a statement. "I'm proud to see so many Black artists nominated this year. It gives me hope that systemic change in our entertainment industry is not only possible, it’s imminent."

"As an artist, it takes a lot of faith to trust that there is space for the stories I want to tell and that the dreams in my heart are tangible," Pope continued. "Today was a reminder that seeing is believing and everything is possible.”

In addition to the record number of Black performers, series created by and starring Black people also fared better this year. Insecure scored eight nominations, including its first for Outstanding Comedy Series as well as two acting noms for creator and star Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, while Black Lady Sketch Show is up for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Angela Bassett. 

The diverse Emmy nominees are a stark contrast to the 92nd Academy Awards, which only saw one person of color (Cynthia Erivo) nominated for an acting category. Speaking with ET ahead of the nominations, Erivo, who was vying to be nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for HBO’s The Outsider, was hopeful that the 72nd Primetime Emmys wouldn’t be a repeat of that situation, especially given the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“If we weren’t going through what we’re going through right now, I would probably be holding my breath and I would be like, ‘Are we going to go through the same thing again? Or am I even going to be included? And am I going to see what we always see?’” Erivo said in June. “But I’m hopeful that this moment will open people’s eyes and hopefully we’ll see something different. I would love for it to change the way we see entertainment performances and open our eyes to all the possibilities,” she continued. 

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be handed out Sunday, Sept. 20 during a broadcast hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.