Over the past five seasons, black-ish has been one of the crown jewels of broadcast television. Like its ABC counterpart Modern Family, black-ish carried itself like an Emmy contender. Great cast, superb writing and directing, and it gave a fresh take on a familiar genre. Unfortunately, all of that has never turned into Emmy gold.
Over the past five seasons, black-ish has amassed 13 nominations and no wins, and as the show gets older in life, I see its odds of winning an Emmy diminishing with each passing year. black-ish has also had a slow ascent in nominations managing to get more nominations than the year-over-year.
In 2015, Anthony Anderson got the shows first and only nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. A great sign for things to come. 2016 added nominations for Tracee Ellis Ross for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Comedy Series, even better! It was in the comedy series race, so the Television Academy was really taking notice. In 2017 it added a nomination for Wanda Sykes for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, and 2018 Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for its “Juneteenth” episode. Good, but I know how the Emmys work, and I knew this was never going to be enough for it to win big.
Tracee Ellis Ross has always been the shows best chance to win a major award, but she’s had the handicap of always being nominated against Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep). Season 3 (2016) was Ross’ best black-ish season, and as the show started to gain momentum after Ross’ Golden Globe win in 2017, it catapulted her to frontrunner status with the possibility of upsetting Louis-Dreyfus’ record-breaking sixth consective Emmy for Veep. After Louis-Dreyfus’ 2017 win and announcement that Veep was taking a year off in 2018, it seemed like it was finally going to be Ross’ turn in the winners circle – that is until The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel showed up on the scene and Rachel Brosnahan has been the awards show darling since her Emmy and Globe win in 2018.
The one sign that the Academy was never going to fully embrace black-ish was its lack of support in other categories like writing, directing, and supporting actor categories. Laurence Fishburne, and especially Jenifer Lewis shine whenever they’re on the screen and it’s been an absolute crime they have never been nominated for their work on black-ish. Failing to get these actors nominated year-after-year have always been a big clue that Emmys didn’t have an intention of expanding the acting nominations for the show beyond Anderson and Ross. After Anton Cropper and Peter Saji failed to get direcing and writing nominations, respectively, for “Juneteenth,” I knew its chances for a Best Comedy win were zero last year.
I love the quote by Carl Sagan, “you have to understand the past to understand the present.” When looking into the Emmy archives on African-American actors and actresses in the comedy categories, winners are alarmingly few and far between.
After having an enlightening conversation with a fellow Emmy connoisseur Terrence Moss (follow him on Twitter @the79show and @TVTHEditor), in the 70 years of the Emmy Awards, only one African-American Actress has won Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Isabel Sanford, The Jefferson’s, 1981). There was a 32 year gap between Donald Glover’s Atlanta win (2017) for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Robert Guillaume’s 1985 win for Benson. Guillaume is also the first (and last) African-American Actor to win Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1979 for Soap (Guilluame played the same character on Soap and its spin-off Benson). Jackée Harry is the only African-American actress to prevail in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category way back in 1987 for 227.
As much as I love black-ish, I think its time at the Emmys may be coming to a close in 2019. After a five years and no wins, the Emmys might move on. I have a strong feeling that Anderson will go without a nomination this year, the first since the show has been on the air. With a packed category and just one slot vacant from last year (Donald Glover, Atlanta), I don’t think the Academy will keep him around when there are actors from younger shows fighting to get it, especially since he hasn’t won before. Ross is the heart of the show and I’d kill to see her win, but with Julia Louis-Dreyfus back from the sidelines with the final season of Veep, and possible newcomers like Kristen Bell (The Good Place), Regina Hall (Black Monday), Alison Brie (GLOW), and Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll) hoping to get into the race this year, Ross is likely to be on the chopping block as well.
2019 Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 16th, get ready for a lot of coverage leading to the final day as potential nominees heat up or cool off.