Emmy Nominations 2014: Where Are All the Asians?

by | July 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM | The Mindy Project, The Walking Dead, True Detective, XFINITY ASIA

Director Cary Fukunaga. (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)

By Dino-Ray Ramos

The Emmy nominations were announced last week and as usual, the Internet reacted accordingly. TV critics, bloggers, and the general denizens of pop culture took to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and every other social media outlet to let the world know what they thought of the newly announced nominees—but the biggest focus, as expected, was who got snubbed. I am here to add to that focus.

The biggest Emmy shocker was the lack of nominations for Tatiana Maslany for her portrayal of multiple roles in the highly lauded, clone-tastic BBC show “Orphan Black.” Other snubs that had bloggers grabbing their pitchforks and torches included a lack of love for shows like “The Americans,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Blacklist,” “Homeland” and “Hannibal”—just to name a few. I was noticing all the snubs as well. More than that, I was noticing the lack of diversity.

This does not mean there isn’t any diversity on the list. There is a decent representation of African Americans getting Emmy love. This includes noms for Kerry Washington for “Scandal,” Don Cheadle for “House of Lies,” Chiwetel Ejiofor for “Dancing On The Edge,” Angela Bassett for “American Horror Story: Coven,” Uzo Aduba in “Orange is the New Black,” Idris Elba for “Luther” as well as Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele for their work on the comedy “Key & Peele.” Then there is Andre Braugher, a heterosexual actor who got a nom for his role in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” as the stoic faced and stern Captain Ray Holt—who is gay. This is a bridge to a hearty list of LGBTQ representation at the Emmys: Kate McKinnon, the first openly gay cast member on “Saturday Night Live” got a nomination and Jesse Tyler Ferguson snagged another nom for his role in “Modern Family.” The gay-friendly Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” broke tons of ground by raking in eight nominations including one for Laverne Cox, who is the first transgender person nominated for an Emmy. And let’s not forget Ryan Murphy‘s adaption of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “The Normal Heart” for HBO, which snagged noms for gay actors Matt Bomer and Jim Parsons (who received another nom for “The Big Bang Theory”).

So yes, there isn’t a total lack of diversity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t afford a little bit more Latino representation—or Asian American representation for that matter. These holes in diversity are surprising and not surprising all at once.

The lack of Asian Americans on the Emmy shortlist is not because there is a lack of Asian Americans on TV. That hurdle has already been jumped. The main problem is that there aren’t many well-written roles for Asian Americans that warrant a nomination. This does not reflect on the Asian Americans that are leaving their mark on the industry. For years, actors like Lucy Liu and John Cho have been a significant and substantial Asian American presence in entertainment, but their characters are not Emmy bait. In addition to Liu’s Watson on “Elementary” and Cho’s roles on “FlashForward” and “Go On,” this can be said about Kunal Nayyar on “The Big Bang Theory,” Hettienne Park on “Hannibal,” Jenna Ushkowitz and company on “Glee,” and over half the cast of “Hawaii Five-0.” The roles are there, they just aren’t screaming “EMMY NOMINEE.” They are not strong enough to be lead and not big enough to be supporting. Instead, they are woven into the ensemble to add necessary nuances and personality to the show.

On the flipside of things, there are Asian American actors and directors elbowing their way to the front and shaping themselves up to be Emmy-worthy. The main one being director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre,” “Jane Eyre”), who was nominated for the much-talked about and critically acclaimed HBO series “True Detective.” Fukunaga is the only Asian American to receive an Emmy nomination in the major categories. Other shows with Asian American connections that received a nomination are “The Big Bang Theory” (with the aforementioned Kunal Nayyar), “Silicon Valley” (with my personal favorite, Kumail Nanjiani), and “Veep” (which features a recurring role from “Fresh Off the Boat’s” Randall Park). Other than that, the Asian American presence is very slim.

This brings us to the Asian American snubs.

The first being Mindy Kaling. The writer/actor has a show (“The Mindy Project”) named after her for crying out loud—and it’s a really good show about the misadventures of a modern female doctor. The comedy is perfectly cast and has clever sitcom writing that has easily surpassed the likes of “New Girl.” Kaling is easily on par with her peers nominated in the category for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie”), Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”), Melissa McCarthy (“Mike & Molly”), and Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”). Plus, she has been nominated numerous times as a producer and writer for “The Office.” She’s practically an awards show veteran. Aziz Ansari is another actor in the sitcom world that deserved some credit. He adds a whole new level of funny as the entrepreneurial over-confident, yet endearing Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation.” In terms of drama, an Emmy nom should have been thrown Steven Yeun‘s way. His arc as Glenn on “The Walking Dead” has been impressive from season to season. He started off as a naïve boy in an apocalyptic zombie world and evolved into a defiant soldier that would do anything for his comrades—and his hot girlfriend.

The presence of Asian Americans in the Emmy world is very minimal this year, but Cary Fukunaga being nominated as the best director of one of the best (if not the best) shows of 2014 isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s a good start to recognize the talent behind the camera. Now all we need to do is get some roles for Asian Americans that would make for great Emmy bait to strengthen that presence.

Dino-Ray Ramos is guest blogger from the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. CAAM does this by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting works in film, television and digital media.