If you were — like Issa Rae famously quipped at the 2017 Emmys — “rooting for everybody Black” at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night, you would have had a lot to celebrate. The show made history for delivering the most nominations for Black performers ever, and then again for actually giving a record number of Emmys to Black actors (nine in total, four given out on the live broadcast). When you’re used to award shows blatantly ignoring formidable examples of Black excellence and yelling obscenities at your TV in vain, this year’s Emmys brought welcome change and many chances to scream “YESSSSS” at your screens. There was, however, one big glaring omission: Insecure did not win any of the major awards it was nominated for.
The HBO series created by and starring Rae, which has a predominantly Black cast and basically stops Twitter every Sunday night while it airs, did take home one Creative Arts Emmy (awarded during a virtual ceremony on Saturday night) for editing, but it was shut out of the awards show on Sunday. Rae and the cast and crew watched the show from SoFi stadium in Rae’s hometown of Inglewood, California, and if the cutaway shots of Rae are to be used as a very unreliable indication, she was just as lowkey disappointed as fans of the show watching.
I hesitate to use the word “snub” when talking about Insecure’s losses because the show was bested in every category by Canadian comedy juggernaut and all around purveyor of joy, Schitt’s Creek, so it’s not like a terrible show was awarded in its place. But the fact that this specific and wildly deserving Black show was overlooked doesn’t sit right with me, especially since the Emmys featured a taped segment with Rae talking about how hard it was to get an authentic series about Black women in Hollywood greenlit.
In the segment, Rae told a story about a white executive dismissing her “first Hollywood pitch” by calling it a show “about this Black woman and her Black-woman problems,” she recalled. “It just became very clear to me that he didn’t get the show. And I remember just fuming in that meeting like, Why does he get to tell me what gets to be on TV? Why does he get to tell me what people like me like to see? I’m here! I’m telling you what I want to see. I made it.‘” Rae’s story, told with her signature charming hilarity, was a highlight of the night and was a way for the Emmys to be self-congratulatory about pointing out systemic problems in the TV industry. But without recognising Insecure for overcoming these obstacles and delivering one of the best seasons in comedy television history (I said what I said!), the moment felt performative (show organisers pulled the same manipulative move with America Ferrera and Latinx representation).
The Emmys used Rae’s star power and experiences to boost their broadcast but didn’t award her for her work. The complete shutout of Insecure from the comedy categories also speaks to which Black performances get recognition and which are beloved by audiences but disregarded by the television academy. Let’s look at Sunday night’s winners: Regina King and Yahya Adbul Mateen II in Watchmen, Uzo Aduba in Mrs. America, and Zendaya (!!!) in Euphoria. All of those actors gave us stunning performances that are more than deserving of their Emmys, but each of the wins are for characters that endured pain and suffering (Zendaya, King, and Abdul Matteen II), were central to stories revolving around race (Watchmen), or were a trailblazing Black historic figure (Aduba as Shirley Chisholm). These roles follow a pattern set time and time again during awards season that tell us which Black narratives matter to Hollywood.
Again, each of these winners earned their awards — that’s not up for debate — but I’m excited for the day when their wins are no longer considered groundbreaking and when a show like Insecure, a fun comedy about Black women living and loving, gets the respect and accolades it deserves. Historically, more Black actors take home awards for Drama than in Comedy series. Donald Glover for Atlanta in 2017 and Robert Guillaume for Benson in 1985 are the only lead comedic actors to win. Zendaya became the second Black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series in the show’s 72-year history (after Viola Davis) and there hasn’t been a Black actress to win the same award in the comedy category since Isabel Sanford in 1981 for The Jeffersons. Turns out, we haven’t exactly moved on up. I’m sorry. I had to.
It isn’t just that Insecure should have been shown more love by the Emmys, it’s also that it wasn’t even nominated in categories that it should have been. Humble Canadian King Dan Levy shouted out the Insecure writers in his acceptance speech for Writing for a Comedy Series, a category in which they weren’t nominated. “I want to recognise Issa Rae and the writers on Insecure for writing some of the funniest, most heartfelt television of the year,” he said, correctly.
The moment felt a bit like Adele praising Beyoncé at the Grammys. Game recognises game. Like Adele, Levy is an incredible talent who deserves to win awards, but his acknowledgment of Insecure was a nice nod to a show that has prioritised Blackness, made us laugh, cry, think, has captured the attention of the zeitgeist, changed the face of television and sparked countless online debates. Insecure deserves! I think Levy knew the show wasn’t going to get the recognition it should from the Academy, and his shoutout proves that Insecure is a cultural phenomenon that has transcended the boxes ignorant white execs tried to put Issa Rae and her art in.
It has taken four seasons for the Emmys to nominate Insecure for Best Comedy Series and to recognise both Rae and Yvonne Orji (Molly) in the acting categories. As much as I wanted this season to garner the respect it earned, I just hope that the Emmys keeps this same Schitt’s Sweep energy when it comes to awarding Insecure in the future — let’s hope it doesn’t wait for its final season to do it.
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