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Diversity Among Emmy Winners Makes 2016 a Year to Remember

As the cable industry jumps full steam into this year’s Diversity Week festivities, Sunday’s Emmy Awards shined a spotlight on TV’s on-screen diversity that won’t soon be diminished.

Heading into Sunday night’s primetime Emmy Awards telecast, the TV Academy had honored actors, directors and writers of color with a record 21 Emmy Award nominations, and ended up showering many of those nominees with Emmy statuettes.

Related:NAMIC, WICT, Kaitz Team for Diversity

Along with all of the Emmy winners, we should applaud the TV Academy’s recognition of the contributions and performances of people of color. 

From actor Rami Malek -- the first actor of color since Andre Braugher in 1998 to win the Emmy Award for best leading actor in a drama series – to writers Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari, who snared Emmys for best comedy writing for their Netflix series Masters of None; to Regina King, who repeated as an Emmy winner for supporting actress in a limited series; to Emmy winners Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance from the Emmy-winning limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson, Sunday night’s ceremony proved that given the opportunity, people of color can produce award-winning content.

Yet there’s still work to be done on the TV’s diversity front.

Despite representing 40% of the U.S. population and overindexing on time spent watching TV content on a weekly basis across several distribution platforms, people of color still only represented 8% of all lead roles on scripted broadcast television shows and 16.6% of cable scripted shows during the 2013-14 TV season, according to UCLA’s 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report.

On the director’s side, people of color and women both made modest year-to-year gains during the 2015-16 television season. Nonetheless, people of color directed just 19% of the more than 4,000 episodes of broadcast and cable shows developed during the period, according to the Directors Guild of America’s 2015-16 Episodic Television Diversity Report. Women -- who comprise more than 50% of the U.S. population -- directed only 17% of those episodes (and two were recognized with Emmys Sunday night: Jill Soloway, best director of a comedy series for Amazon's Transparent, and Susanne Bier, best director of a limited series for AMC's The Night Manager).

No doubt the needle is moving in the right direction for diversity in the television industry. The discussion however, needs to continue, as it will this week during the WICT Leadership Conference, the NAMIC Conference and the Walter Kaitz Foundation fundraising dinner, as well as beyond.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.