The 70th annual Emmy Awards subjected viewers to an almost unending barrage of secondhand embarrassment. Full of stilted banter, dubious jokes, and painful comedic mismatches, the ceremony dragged on with all the excitement of an extended commercial break.
Still, even within the parade of uncomfortable drudgery, one moment felt particularly unnerving. The comedian James Corden, who hosted the 2016 Tony Awards with an appropriate measure of gravity, gravely misfired when he lent his commentary to the de facto theme of Monday night’s Emmys: diversity. “Let’s get it trending,” he told the crowd and, more importantly, viewers at home. “#EmmysSoWhite.”
Likely meant as a reference to the social-media-driven campaign to diversify the Academy Awards, or perhaps more generously as a reference to the honoree Betty White, Corden’s half-hearted exhortation was met with nervous laughter. The discomfort was palpable. But Corden’s request was just one of several self-referential nods to the awards show’s lack of “diversity,” that pesky euphemism most often used to refer to people of color without substantively engaging difference or talent.
From the ceremony’s opening moments, the hosts, Michael Che and Colin Jost, congratulated themselves, and the ceremony, for a patently nonexistent racial harmony. Rather than take the opportunity to meaningfully address any number of political concerns facing Hollywood at the moment, the duo traded toothless quips about racial differences. “I just wanna say, six awards so far, all white winners, and no one’s thanked Jesus yet,” Che noted, referencing an earlier joke in which he’d said his mother didn’t enjoy “white” awards shows because no one thanked the Lord. The joke was technically adequate, but it did little to address the disconcerting trend already under way.