The 72nd Emmys Awards Are Definitely Happening—What Else Is Still Happening in 2020? Black History Firsts!

Leslie Jones announcing the 2020 Emmys nominations.
Leslie Jones announcing the 2020 Emmys nominations.
Screenshot: Television Academy/YouTube

An awards season day in the life of a Black creator or a Black person interested in entertainment/award ceremonies goes a little something like this:

  1. Black person is nominated for or wins a big deal award.
  2. Black people rejoice (on Twitter, etc.) because we’re rooting for everybody Black.
  3. Black people find out that Black history is being made.
  4. Some variant of “Damn, that’s dope! Huge deal!” happens and the historic fact trends.
  5. The triumphant seasoning is allowed to marinate for a bit.
  6. Wait…we’re still saying “the first Black person to…” in [insert modern year here]?!
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It’s so real—I am always down to celebrate notable historic moments in Black history, but I also can’t help but assess and analyze what it means that we’re still celebrating certain “firsts” in history, after all of these years...in 2020. Sadly even with legacy ceremonies such as the Emmys and the Oscars are at their “big age,” we’re still encountering momentous accolades that one would think had already happened by now—especially given just how much Hollywood loves to pat itself on the back for its diversity and inclusion.

This all leads us to the nominations for the 72nd (!!!) Primetime Emmys Awards that were announced on Tuesday.

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In addition to the fact that some folks realized they’ll get to put “Emmy-nominated” in front of their name for life (at the very least, some of them may get to designate “Emmy-winning”), news began to circulate that there was some Black history being made with this round of noms.

We’ve already reported on the fact that Reginald Hudlin will be the first-ever Black producer credited for the telecast.

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The biggest news is that this year’s Emmys marked an all-time record for Black actor nominations, making up 34.3% of noms in the acting categories. Speaking of which, Maya Rudolph not only became the first Black actor to be nominated against herself for guest acting but the first actor period in Emmy history. She is nominated under the Best Comedy Guest Actress category for her roles in The Good Place (as Judge Gen) and Saturday Night Live (as Sen. Kamala Harris). Apparently, this feat has only been made possible since 2010. Before then, rules only allowed one listing in the category per performer.

Oh, and she has a third nomination for Character Voice-Over Performance in Big Mouth where she plays Connie the Hormone Monstress. Slay!

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Also, Nicole Byer became the first Black woman to be nominated for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program (the category itself has been in existence for 13 years)! Byer was nominated for Nailed It! and the popular baking show also received another nomination for Outstanding Reality Competition.

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Plus, we’d be remiss not to reiterate how noticeable (and notable) is that 3 out of 5 of the actresses nominated in the Limited Series category are Black (Kerry Washington, Octavia Spencer and Regina King).

In addition to the actors, there are some technical awards that deserve some shine, particularly the fact Kira Kelly nabbed a nom in the Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series category for Insecure’s acclaimed episode titled, “Lowkey Happy.” As series writer-star Natasha Rothwell noted, this is especially a big deal as Black women cinematographers (also known as a Director of Photography or DP) aren’t adequately represented in the first place!

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Speaking of Insecure, it was pretty cool to see the show get some real recognition with its 8 nominations, yet it’s also important to note how long it’s taken to get here in the grand scheme of things. Since 8 is the magic number here, the show is only the 8th comedy series starring Black talent to be nominated in the Outstanding Comedy Series category.

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Dime Davis became the first Black woman to score a directing nod in the Directing Variety Series category for her work in A Black Lady Sketch Show.

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There were also some notable composer noms including Pharrell Williams in the Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics category (“Letter to My Godfather,” The Black Godfather) and RZA in the Original Main Title Theme Music category (Wu-Tang: An American Saga).

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Of course, none of this systemic critique is mutually exclusive of my ability to revel and share in the excitement shared on social media.

For example, Yvonne Orji was able to make fun of herself, noting, “All of that Molly hate this season actually paid off!” and, of course, called her parents when she got the good news that she’d been nominated under the Supporting Comedy Actress category. Speaking of parents, Tracee Ellis Ross (nominated in the Lead Comedy Actress category) shared a super-cute moment with her always supportive and super-famous mama, Diana Ross.

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Frequent Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown landed in both the drama and comedy genres with his roles in This Is Us (Lead) and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Supporting).

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Congrats to the nominees and I hope to be able to congratulate some winners, soon! As always, the progressive work is ongoing.

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Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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