Emmys: A Record Number of Black Performers Win in 2020

Emmys Split: Regina, RuPaul, Maya
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The 72nd Creative Arts and Primetime Emmys awarded the most diverse set of performers ever.

The 72nd Creative Arts and Primetime Emmy Awards proved to be a landmark moment for diversity. Between both ceremonies, which aired between Monday and Sunday night, a record number of Black performers -- 11 total -- won in the performance (acting, hosting and voice) categories. The previous record, a total of eight people of color, with Black people making up seven of those winners, was set in 2018.

Among the 2020 winners were Zendaya (Euphoria), Regina King (Watchmen), RuPaul (RuPaul’s Drag Race), who is now the most awarded host in Emmy history, two-time winner Maya Rudolph (Big Mouth, Saturday Night Live), and Ron and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who became the first father-daughter duo to win acting prizes in the same year for their respective work on This Is Us and #FreeRayshawn.

Additionally, Eddie Murphy took home his first Emmy for hosting SNL, while Laurence Fishburne (#FreeRayshawn), Uzo Aduba (Mrs. America), and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) all won their respective categories.  

During the ceremony, Anthony Anderson took the stage to call attention to what was “supposed to be the Blackest Emmys ever.”

“Y'all couldn't have handled how Black it was gonna be,” the Black-ish star and nominee said before presenting Watchmen with Outstanding Limited Series. “But instead of that sexy, melanated energy, here I am alone in a sterilized green room, trying not to sneeze on a llama… This isn't what it should have been, Jimmy!”

He concluded by noting, “Black Lives Matter, and we're doing our best to protect Black lives. Black people are staying home tonight, which is fine because you know what? Y'all don't know how to light us anyway.”

The landmark number of wins come after a new record of Black performers were nominated for acting prizes, with at least one Black contender in every acting, voice and hosting category. At the time, Abdul-Mateen II told ET, “This type of representation is a long time coming. There’s no shortage of talent within the Black community.” 

“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,” he continued, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement that was reignited over the summer after the killing of George Floyd and has called for the end of systemic racism in all facets of America, including Hollywood’s treatment of marginalized communities. 

“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,” Hollywood star Jeremy Pope said in a statement to ET. 

While there were significant gains in representation, there are still a number of marginalized groups that continue to be overlooked. Notably, Asian and Latinx performers were largely underrepresented among this year’s nominations and wins, with Sandra Oh still walking away empty handed after nine acting nominations. The Killing Eve star and Rain Valdez were the only two East Asian performers nominated, with Valdez up for the Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. According to NBC News, Asian Americans only made up one percent of the total nominations this year -- and that’s down from two percent in 2019.  

The same goes for the LGBTQ community, with transgender performers failing to walk away with a win despite a historic year featuring two openly transgender nominees, Valdez and Laverne Cox, up for acting prizes in the same year. Not only did neither of them win -- for Cox, this is her fourth loss for her acclaimed role on Orange Is the New Black -- but the women of Pose were snubbed when the nominations were first announced in July.

In total, only three openly LGBTQ performers, RuPaul, Dan Levy (Schitt's Creek) and Cherry Jones (Succession), won this year. (Though, Levy did walk away with two additional trophies for writing and producing.) The total is one shy of the previous record of four, set in 2019. 

Wins for people of color weren’t limited to just the acting prizes. Elsewhere, filmmaker Stan Lathan won Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special for Dave Chappelle’s Netflix standup; Euphoria composer Labrinth won Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics; Mahershala Ali won Outstanding Children's Program for producing We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest; and Van Jones won for Outstanding Original Interactive Program for The Messy Truth VR Experience. 

Additionally, Tyler Perry was given with the Governors Award and Kerry Washington, who was a four-time nominee this year, won her first Emmy, Outstanding Variety Special (Live), for producing Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times.