Op-ed: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
BY Ross von Metzke
September 26 2013 3:01 AM ET
“I didn't see any diversity in the Emmys at all. The Emmys felt so dated to me. That dance number was embarrassing. Did you see one person of color in that dance number?"
That’s Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo talking to a reporter at a party following the 2013 Emmy Awards on Sunday. And it’s funny because I found myself stopping and thinking back on the ceremony. I was in the audience, and I realized — I didn’t see what she saw. From where I was sitting the show was extremely diverse. You had an openly gay man, Neil Patrick Harris, hosting. Jim Parsons won a third Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series for The Big Bang Theory. Jane Lynch received her third Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Glee. Jesse Tyler Ferguson received his fourth Emmy nomination for Modern Family. Nathan Lane was nominated for Best Guest Actor on two different shows (The Good Wife and Modern Family). And Dan Bucatinsky won an Emmy for Best Guest Actor in a Drama for playing a gay character on Scandal.
The Emmys were diverse — for gay people. It’s one of the rare moments where we seem to be winning the battle. We’ve become visible, we’re being recognized. For gays and lesbians, the Emmy Awards were relatively diverse.
For everyone else, it was same old, same old.
I was suffering from tunnel vision. After years of working for The Advocate, with Dan Savage, on The It Gets Better Project and with various other LGBT nonprofits, I’d trained my eye to look for the gay representation and in the process managed to turn off the part of my brain that searches for equal representation of everyone else. Sure, the Emmys had a nice moment where Diahann Carroll came out and acknowledged that for the first time in nearly 40 years, a female African-American had earned an Emmy nomination in a leading acting category (that would be Kerry Washington, who was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama for Scandal). Carroll herself was the first African-American ever to be nominated for TV's highest honor (in 1969 for the sitcom Julia). It was a nice moment, an important moment, and rightly so, the Emmys made a big deal of pairing Carroll and Washington on stage.
But then Washington didn’t win (Claire Danes won for a second year in a row for Homeland). And categories came and went with a sprinkling of diversity here and there (Don Cheadle and Alfre Woodard stand out) but no major wins. Once again the Emmys were completely whitewashed, and I didn’t notice. Ellen Pompeo did. She went on to say in that interview that she’s proud to be a part of Grey’s Anatomy because of "our very, very diverse cast which represents the world that I walk around in every day." And she’s right. So does creator Shonda Rhimes’ other series, Scandal. On both shows Rhimes is doing a terrific job of representing all minorities, including LGBTs. But she’s one of the only people out there fighting the good fight — for everybody.
I have to admit, reading Pompeo’s quote (and I know she’s not the only one who felt this way, she’s just the only one who said something to a reporter), I was rather disappointed in myself. I mean, I don’t really have any interest in becoming the PC police, dissecting every cast on television to ensure they all have a little bit of everything. But the beauty of the worlds created by Rhimes is that she casts actors and actresses of color not because the role calls for a “sassy black woman” or a “built Latino.” She casts actors in roles, and they happen to be black, Latino, Asian, gay, lesbian. She’s not writing roles for minorities. She’s writing roles and then casting actors who happen to be diverse. And she’s going beyond the old “toss in a black cop and you’ve got yourself a diverse cast” adage. Diversity doesn’t just mean one black actor and they don’t always have to be playing the friend. It’s 2013 — we should be doing better
Reading that quote and then thinking back on my Emmys experience was just an important reminder for me, a reminder we all need every now and then. We’re in this together, and any time we think we aren’t, take a step back and really think about things. We joke that the gays run Hollywood, but they really do — they run the damn place. Now we’ve still got a long way to go. For every Matt Bomer there are at least a dozen leading men who have yet to come out and say those two words that seem so hard to say when a potentially multi-million dollar career is on the line. But we’re making major strides, and the long list of gay and lesbian nominees at the Emmys is evidence. Now it’s time to share the love. The fact that we had Diahann Carroll passing the torch to Kerry Washington 40 years after Julia went off the air is embarrassing. There are many, many, many talented actors and actresses of color out there who deserve to be working and are deserving of recognition. It’s time for Hollywood to catch up, and it’s time for LGBTs to stand up and fight alongside them.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to writing my one-hour drama for ABC starring Phylicia Rashad, Wentworth Miller and Ming-Na.
ROSS VON METZKE's work as a writer has appeared in The Advocate, Out, Entertainment Weekly, YM, and more. He is the former editor of Advocate.com and works in social media marketing for a number of nonprofit clients. Follow him at @RossWilliamvon