Academy News

A Dynamic and Diverse Evening

5th Annual Dynamic and Diverse Emmy Celebration spotlights television diversity in front of and behind the cameras.

Libby Slate
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP

Diversity and inclusion are here to stay.

That message has been increasingly and resoundingly reiterated by the Television Academy, be it in remarks made by Chairman and CEO Hayma Washington – himself, the first African-American Academy leader – on stage before a global viewing audience at the 69th Emmys; Lena Waithe’s historic first-ever win by an African-American woman that night for Outstanding Comedy Series Writing; or by the booking of two cast members from A&E’s Born This Way, who have Down syndrome, as presenters at the Creative Arts Awards.

Those two watchwords were also the focus of the Academy’s 5th Annual Dynamic and Diverse Emmy Celebration, which recognizes Emmy nominees and others in the television community, on and behind the camera, whose diversity includes ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, age and/or disability.

Almost 450 industry members turned out for the cocktail reception, which was held on September 12, 2017 at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood and was once again co-hosted by SAG-AFTRA.

Among the attendees was Waithe herself, just days before she shared the Emmy win with Aziz Anzari for the “Thanksgiving” episode of Netflix’s Master of None, which was inspired by her true-life coming out as gay to her mother.

A first-timer at the event, Waithe said, “It’s really beautiful. To have all of us in the same room – dynamic, diverse, as Ava Duvernay would say, ‘included,’ voices and faces – it’s phenomenal. I’m honored to be a part of it.”

There were similarities to other diversity events she’s attended: “A big family reunion, a lot of love, lots of good vibes, chatting,  catching up, war stories to share. And I’ve met a lot of new people. But the truth is, an event like this reminds me of how long I’ve been in Los Angeles, to see the people I know. I talk to them on social media all the time. It’s nice to hold them and give them a hug.”

Also attending for the first time was Kim Estes, who just the previous night at the Creative Arts Emmys had won the Emmy Award as Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, for the Vimeo show Dicks. “I knew the event was a celebration of diversity and inclusion, that I champion,” he said.

“I feel very strongly about that thing that can happen when people step outside their comfort zones, when you start the inclusion process, when diversity becomes key and essential because this is our world. Our world is diverse. Our world is not standard.

“It’s a wonderful event. Look at the array of colors; it’s a rainbow of colors of people. It is amazing. I think these are people who are focused on bringing inclusion into the process. It’s quite the process that we go through, as actors, and as producers, directors, writers, people who can make things happen if we’re not prejudiced.”

Another woman named Lena was also a first-time attendee: Lena Khan, a writer-director who released a feature film this year, The Tiger Hunter, and is developing a television series with a streaming service.

“It’s a half-hour single-camera comedy. It features South Asians in some prominent roles, which is why it’s nice to be at this event,” Khan said of the show. A Muslim who wears a hijab, Khan was born in Canada, grew up in California and has Indian parents. She was one of several members of the DGA Mentorship Program invited by Academy Diversity Committee co-chair Gail Mancuso, who is a mentor.

When she was making the rounds trying to sell her show, “People were really receptive once they started hearing the story, but once in a while you’d see that head turn, where people are sort of surprised that you’re in this industry or that you’re talking the way anyone else would,” Khan said.

“You can tell when you get in a room. It came up that I play the drums. And they thought it was the funniest thing, like ‘head scarf girl’ playing the drums. You don’t think of yourself as a novelty or a token, but sometimes you notice that other people see you that way. It’s a strange thing to notice.”

Mancuso and fellow Diversity Committee co-chair Rickey Minor were among several speakers, many of whom asked guests to look around the room to savor the diversity of those in attendance, make an effort to reach out and meet new people, and remember that they had the power to create stories and employ people of diversity. Hayma Washington, himself a former Diversity Committee co-chair, thanked everyone for coming.

“I want you to take a moment to take pride in how far we’ve come when talking about diversity and inclusion in television,” Washington said.

“Television is better when we draw from many different voices, different minds and different possibilities. Our Academy is better when we give opportunities to different communities of people who may not have had their voices heard in the past. Our industry is better when we look around and see that we truly reflect our society.”

Noted Minor, “It’s important for us all to come together. We are all the same. We have the same fears, hopes and dreams. Our families may look and sound different, but we are all the same. The time is now, and we must extend beyond ourselves and reach out to our fellow creative artists, so that this industry may reflect the many voices and faces in this magical world of ours. No one needs a hand out, but a hand up We need each other. We are all the same.”

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris reminded attendees that, “Collectively we represent the proliferation of content, thousands of hours of television onscreen. We want to see the inclusion of diversity in everything we do. There are more authentic stories to be told than ever before.” And Jon Huertas, a cast member of NBC’s This Is Us, noted that “[Diversity] is good business. Diversity makes money.”

It was Huertas’s first Dynamic and Diverse event. “It’s a great event. It brings out so many talented people, brings out a swath of diverse people from every background,” he enthused. “This event has shown me that this town has embraced diversity, and it’s still continuing to grow. Hollywood has a long way to go until we see full inclusion, but over the 23 years of my career, I have seen it change from night to day, the amount of diversity and inclusion in stories that paint people of diverse backgrounds.

“The stories now are much more positive – it’s not such a problem in their lives anymore onscreen. We don’t have to ‘save’ people anymore. They’re able to tell great stories about great people, that happen to be diverse. That’s what’s amazing.”

Also attending for the first time was Micah Fowler, the star of ABC’s Speechless, who has cerebral palsy and speaks with great effort. “It’s so amazing to see everyone come together,” he said. His face, alight with enthusiasm and appreciation, said the rest.

Members of the Leimert Park-based Fernando Pullum Youth Orchestra entertained; they were invited by Minor, who is also a governor of the Music peer group, because, “They are the future. If you want to talk about diversity on any level, you have to reach the kids,”
Minor said.

Mancuso connected with various factions as well. “I really made it a point to reach out to the governors of all the [Academy] peer groups, to have the representation of all 30 peer groups,” she said. “Each group has its own union. The Television Academy is a place where we can all come together – it’s a very special place.”

Mancuso invited a number of non-Academy members, such as those from the DGA. “Most of them are diverse, and most of them showed up,” she said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for these up-and-coming directors, a great networking event.”

Yes, diversity and inclusion are here to stay – and one reason why was exemplified by comments celebrants made to Minor. A transgender man approached him to thank him for the event because, the man said, “We really don’t have a place to go to be heard, to be normal.” And a group of gay and lesbian attendees told him, “This is not only a party, but validation, that we matter.”

Said Minor, “I gave the transgender man a hug and said, ‘We’re so happy you’re here.’”