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Emmy Winners’ Increased Diversity Comes After a Decade of Industry Progress, Expert Says

The 75th Emmy Awards honored the most diverse batch of winners in its history, signaling progress made for equitable representation across the TV industry.

The ceremony, which aired on Monday, after being delayed by the Hollywood double strikes, tied its record for most wins by actors of color with five out of the 12 acting categories, including “Dahmer” standout Niecy Nash-Betts for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie; “Beef” stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong for lead actor and actress, respectively, in a Limited Series; “The Bear” actress Ayo Edebiri for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and “Abbott Elementary” creator and star Quinta Brunson for lead comedy actress. The latter pair also marked the first time these comedy categories were awarded to two Black women in the same year.

“It’s very special and I’m very humbled … on today of all days, too,” Edebiri told reporters of the historic feat following her acceptance speech, nodding to Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The acting record of five non-white actors taking home the Primetime Emmy gold was first set during the 1991 ceremony, with wins from Lynn Whitfield, Madge Sinclair, Ruby Dee and two for James Earl Jones. Though noting the “disappointing” 32-year gap between milestones, Dr. Ana Cristina Ramón, director of UCLA’s entertainment and media research initiative, credited the expanded diversity among the 2023 honorees to Hollywood’s noted investment in inclusive storytelling.

Ramón and her team have studied the relationship between diverse storytelling and the entertainment industry’s bottom line since 2011 through UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report. Through the years, the team noted a slow but steady increase in programming featuring diverse casts and creatives of color behind the camera across broadcast, cable and streaming.

“When people of color have the power to create their own programming and receive the funding to make prestige television, then the possibilities are endless,” Ramón told TheWrap.

UCLA’s diversity reports have found that as shows featuring diverse casts on broadcast (think sitcoms like “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat”) became more popular, studios and networks continued investing in similar projects “maybe not for the greater good,” but to increase their viewership and profitability. In turn, that increase in demand led to more opportunities for non-white talent and creatives in the industry.

That growth has been slower than the increase of the U.S.’ non-white population overall, but Ramón emphasized that more visibility in programming led to shows like “Abbott Elementary,” “The Bear” and “Beef” finally getting the recognition they deserved.

“In the past, there were shows out there, but they just never even got nominated,” Ramón added, citing a recent example in Sterlin Harjo’s acclaimed but Emmy-ignored FX series “Reservation Dogs.” As these shows become more popular and gather more praise, “it’s more difficult [for voters] to be biased against that excellence.”

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Steven Yeun as Danny (left) and Ali Wong as Amy in “Beef.”

An industry shift was also seen in 2023 Emmys milestones beyond the acting winners. “Beef” creator Lee Sung Jin swept with wins in writing, directing and Best Limited Series, a strong showing for Asian creatives, alongside his stars. Trevor Noah also made history as the first non-white entertainer to take home an Outstanding Variety Talk Series win for his final year on “The Daily Show.”

“I look around that room and there’s just so many people that I respect and admire so much — people whose work has definitely inspired me and the show — so to be recognized by folks like that, it’s really humbling,” Lee told TheWrap. “I felt very grateful to be a part of this kind of community.”

Still, predominantly white shows like “Succession” and “The White Lotus” nabbed wins in drama categories, leaving Latino nominees like Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza and others once again trophy-less. With “Succession” out of the Emmy race and powerhouse shows like “White Lotus,” “The Last of Us” and more delayed due to the strikes, there’s hope that slots will be left open for overlooked series and talent to have their moment.

“Maybe [more diverse shows] will get the opportunity to be seen and nominated in the next cycle,” Ramón said.

FX’s “The Bear” will be back in the spotlight with its critically acclaimed second season, so expect that comedy sweep — and Edebiri’s indelible performance — to remain an awards threat for now.

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