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Bowen Yang makes history, but Asians remain underrepresented in 2021 Emmy nominations

A man dressed up as an iceberg sitting next to another man.
Bowen Yang, left, dressed as “The Iceberg That Sank the Titanic,” with his “Saturday Night Live” castmate Colin Jost, was nominated for a 2021 Emmy Award.
(Will Heath / NBC)

The nominations for the 73rd Emmy Awards were announced Tuesday, and Asian representation remains abysmal — none of the 32 lead acting nominees from the comedy, drama and limited-series categories are performers of Asian decent.

That’s not to say that the top acting categories were overwhelmingly white. The 2021 Emmy nominations included milestones such as an overdue historical first for “Pose’s” Mj Rodriguez, as well as recognition for “I May Destroy You’s” Michaela Coel, who was controversially overlooked by the Golden Globes. Most of the acting categories include at least two nominees of color.

Plus, performers of Asian decent did break through in the supporting categories, including “Saturday Night Live’s” Bowen Yang for comedy series, “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Max Minghella for drama series and “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo for limited or anthology series or movie. (Yes, the filmed version of the musical was Emmy eligible.)

“The Crown” and “The Mandalorian” dominate the 2021 Emmy nominations. Here are the honorees in the major categories.

Minghella and Soo are first-time Emmy nominees, while Yang — who previously was nominated for writing for a variety series — is the first Chinese American man to be nominated in the supporting actor category.

Behind the camera, “Pen15” star Maya Erskine nabbed a nomination for writing for a comedy series. Erskine was previously nominated in 2019 in the same category. The Hulu series, co-created by Erskine, was also nominated for comedy series this year.

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On the drama side, writer Yahlin Chang was nominated for her work on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This is Chang’s third nomination in the category for her work on the series.

And looking beyond scripted series, Tan France of “Queer Eye” and “Top Chef’s” Padma Lakshmi were among the hosts nominated in the host of a reality or competition program category for their respective shows.

Columnist and awards expert Glenn Whipp breaks down the top surprises and snubs of Tuesday’s Emmy nominations.

Still, the Emmys have a history of underrepresenting Asians. Last year, a Times analysis examining 19 Primetime Emmy categories from 2015 to 2019 found that just 2% of the nominees were Asian.

At the 2020 Emmys, nominees of Asian descent accounted for just 1% of the total nods and included “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh (lead actress in a drama series), “Modern Love’s” Dev Patel (guest actor in a comedy series) and “Successions’” Andrij Parekh (directing for a drama series winner).

Although significant progress has been made in the past few years in opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on prime-time television, they remain underrepresented, marginalized and relegated to token appearances on comedies and dramas, the summation of a new study released Tuesday.

These Emmy statistics, of course, are linked to the overall underrepresentation of Asian and Pacific Islanders on television. A 2017 study of scripted shows that aired between Sept. 1, 2015, and Aug. 31, 2016, found that just 4% of all series regulars on primetime TV were Asian Americans, while Pacific Islanders made up only 0.2% of series regulars. (API representation in film remains just as disappointing.)


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