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  • Originally published on
  • Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020
Women's Media Center Reports Minimal Progress For Females In Non-Acting Primetime Emmy Nominations

A bigger pool of nominations for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards hasn’t made much of a difference in bringing overall gender parity to the nominations in behind-the-scenes categories. That’s one of the prime findings in the Women’s Media Center annual Emmys Report titled "WMC 2020 Investigation:  Gender & Non-Acting Primetime Emmy Nominations."

The recently released research shows that of the 2,286 people nominated for non-acting Primetime Emmys in 2020, 801 (35%) are women, while 1,485 (65%) are men. That’s a small percentage increase for women compared to 2019, when the 2,383 non-acting Primetime Emmy nominees consisted of 763 (32%) women, 1,617 (68%) men, and three (0.13%) who identify as nonbinary. Some categories have seen progress in female representation, but most have not.

In front of the camera, it looks like progress has been made for women in television because out of the top 10 shows with the most Primetime Emmy nominations this year, the majority have a female-focused storyline. Behind the scenes is another story.

“When it comes to those powerful, behind-the-scenes roles for producing, directing, writing, and editing, there has been little progress for women in non-acting primetime Emmy nominations,” said Julie Burton, president and CEO of the Women’s Media Center. “Award nominations are often the springboard to better opportunities. Until women and people of color achieve equal status in employment behind the scenes, it is difficult to imagine these nominations representing anything near gender and race equality, nor truly reflecting the diversity of enormous talent we know exists.”

Gender parity overall remains elusive in the four top non-acting Emmy fields: producing, directing, writing, and editing. Of these four non-acting fields, producing continues to be the one getting closest to gender parity. In 2020, 39% of the producer nominees were women, compared to 35% in 2019. There was also a slight increase in female nominees for directing: 14% in 2020, up from 11% in the previous year. However, the percentage of female nominees for writing (28%) remains unchanged from 2019. And the percentage of female nominees in editing decreased to 20% in 2020, compared to 27% in 2019. Almost every program nominated for editing Emmys this year had only male editors or a majority of male editors.

“Representation is paramount in Hollywood,” said Janet Dewart Bell, WMC vice chair. “Research has shown that if women, especially women of color, are calling the shots behind the camera, the more likely it is that films will accurately reflect and portray U.S. audiences.”

Burton added, “We are in a moment of sweeping change for racial and gender justice. It is our hope that future production leadership will step up to this moment and make sure the creative teams behind the scenes include women and people of color in representative and equal numbers.  More diverse voices at the table will surely translate into more equitable nominations — and potentially, a bigger audience.”

There were some notable behind-the-scenes accomplishments for women in this year’s Emmy nominations. Women comprise the majority of non-acting nominees for Little Fires Everywhere and Mrs. America. Netflix’s Michelle Obama documentary film Becoming has a female director/cinematographer and an all-female team of producers, all of whom received Emmy nominations for the movie. And, for the first time, two women of color — Dime Davis of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and Linda Mendoza of Netflix’s Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready — have been nominated in the same year for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series.

Kerry Washington had a major breakthrough, being the first Black woman to receive three executive producer Emmy nominations in one year, for Little Fires Everywhere, nominated for Outstanding Limited Series; for Netflix’s American Son, nominated for Outstanding Television Movie; and for ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All In The Family and Good Times, nominated for Outstanding Variety Special (Live). She’s also in the running for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, for her performance in Little Fires Everywhere.

Continuing to break Emmy barriers for Asian women in television is Marika Sawyer, who has received several Emmy nominations since 2008 for writing and has two nominations in 2020, for being an executive producer and a writer of Netflix’s John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch, which is nominated for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special. And although Latinx people were shut out of all Emmy acting nominations this year, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are nominated as non-acting performers for Fox’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show Starring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Writer/producer/comedian Hannah Gadsby, who identifies as a lesbian with autism, gives representation to the LGBTQ and disability communities with her Netflix stand-up comedy special Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, which is nominated for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.

“Without the necessary key industry contacts that for so long have been afforded to white men, women will continue to be at a disadvantage in Hollywood,” said Pat Mitchell, WMC co-chair. “That’s why the Sundance Institute fellowships for bold women filmmakers, especially those women from historically underrepresented communities, is so essential in leveling the playing field.”

In 2020, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which oversees and produces the Primetime Emmy Awards, made some significant changes to Primetime Emmy eligibility rules. The most notable rule change was the increase in the maximum number of possible nominations in each category from five to eight, based on a sliding scale of eligible submissions. This change was at least in part designed “to allow for more inclusiveness in the recognition of excellence,” according to the Academy.

The 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards will air on Sunday, September 20, on ABC. The 2020 Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be presented over five days; the first installment wrapped last night. Still to come are more webcasts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (9/15-17). The fifth part of the Creative Arts ceremony will be televised on Saturday, September 19, on FXX.

Co-founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, the Women’s Media Center is an inclusive and feminist organization that works to raise the visibility, viability, and decision-making power of women and girls in media to ensure that their stories get told and their voices are heard.

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