WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – The Emmys, television’s highest-profile awards, could have seized the moment with Thursday’s nominations to fully acknowledge the wealth of diverse talent adding to the medium’s vibrancy and relevance.
There was recognition of stellar actresses Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis. Henson, who plays the sexy, formidable matriarch on hip-hop drama “Empire” and Davis, a brilliantly cutthroat attorney on “How to Get Away with Murder,” are competing for drama series actress honors.
The nominations set up the possibility of a history-making outcome: It’s one of the few top acting categories that has only been awarded to white actresses.
“I gotta win! I gotta win for history!” an exuberant Henson said when asked about the prospect during an “Empire” panel in May.
But there were glaring omissions as well – including a shutout in major awards for “Empire,” a breakout hit that makes a black family the rare focus of a TV drama, other than Henson’s bid.
Emmy voters also snubbed Latina actresses Gina Rodriguez, a Golden Globe winner for “Jane the Virgin,” and Sofia Vergara, a four-time nominee for “Modern Family.”
Queen Latifah is in the running for her compelling portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith in the film “Bessie.” Its 12 nominations included best TV movie and acting nods for Mo’Nique and Michael Kenneth Williams.
“This is what it’s supposed to be like. You should recognize actors and creative people in this industry from every level of all colors who do great work,” Latifah said.
The realm of gender identity also received some attention, with “Transparent” and star Jeffrey Tambor’s transsexual portrayal earning best comedy series and acting bids.
“Any light of recognition and acceptance by the academy and the community is so important for our show because we are still the little engine that could,” Tambor said. “And the subject matter is so important. So this is really, really a bright, bright day.”
It’s understandable that worthy shows and performers will be overlooked, given the crush of small-screen programming on broadcast, cable, satellite and online. But some omissions stand out as a sign the TV industry has yet to encompass the diversity of the country it seeks to entertain.
While academy voters found room for Henson and Davis, two-time nominee Kerry Washington of “Scandal” was squeezed out.
Family comedy “black-ish” earned an acting bid for star Anthony Anderson, but failed to gain a best series nomination.
For the overall top nominee, the nominations were a rerun of last year. “Game of Thrones” repeated as the top nominee, with 24 bids. That’s five more than last year, despite the fantasy saga taking hits for depicting a female character’s wedding-night rape by her brutish husband.
The Emmy Awards will air Sept. 20, with Andy Samberg as host.
HBO received a leading 126 nominations, followed by ABC with 42, CBS and NBC with 41, FX Network with 38, Fox with 35, Netflix with 34, Comedy Central with 25 and Showtime with 18.