Top 10 Performers of Color Overlooked by the Emmys

By Sameer Rao Jul 17, 2015

This year’s Primetime Emmy nominations, announced yesterday, are receiving appropriate praise for honoring respected actors and actresses of color for their acclaimed work on a variety of television programs. The nominations reflect a broader industry trend—that Hollywood, responding to viewers, is starting to promote shows with diverse lineups where performers of color are not just tokens, but taking center stage and challenging perceptions of what’s watchable.

That said, as the otherwise-extremely-white nominee lineup suggests, the Emmys could have done a lot better. We’ve rounded up this list of 10 performers of color whose exceptional appearances were criminally overlooked by show business’s third-most conservative major awards show (after the Oscars and the CMT Awards):


Gina Rodriguez, "Jane the Virgin"


This should’ve been really obvious for the Emmys—Rodriguez is a revelation in “Jane the Virgin,” as a religious young Latina woman whose accidental artificial insemination sets off a rollercoaster of chain events. Throughout the otherworldly craziness of this English-language telenovela, Rodriguez’s grounded erformance as Jane Villanueva hooks audiences past the first watch. The Golden Globes understood this, which is why she won the Globe this year for Best Actress in a Television Comedy or Musical. Why couldn’t the Emmy’s see that—especially when they nominated the show’s narrator?


Jessica Williams, "The Daily Show”


Although "Daily Show" correspondents don’t typically get recognized outside of their general contribution to the show, one—a young black woman—has been responsible for the show’s most trenchant political criticism and for actually approaching the absurdity and tragedy of the contemporary racial climate. That performer is Jessica Williams, and as the clip above attests, we have no idea why she was overlooked. 


Benito Martinez, "American Crime”


It’s funny that a white guy—Timothy Hutton—was honored for his (admittedly strong) performance in an acclaimed, complicated and dark drama about a home invasion that brings simmering race relations to a boil in small-city California. Actually, no it’s not, and Benito Martinez should have been recognized for his work in the show. You may not think that his turn as concerned Latino father Alonzo Gutiérrez, caught between his idealized version of the American dream and the reality of state persecution against Latinos, is worth a nomination alone. Even so, Emmy nods are sometimes a tacit recognition of someone’s body of work, and Martinez’s performances—particularly as David Aceveda from “The Shield"—are worthy of such an honor. 


Rami Malek, "Mr. Robot”


So this might be cheating on our part, as the Emmys’ timetable might rule out a lot of summer shows from being evaluated before the end of their first season. That said, rules are dumb, and the Egyptian-American Malek is the most exciting star of the most exciting summer series in a long time. USA’s “Mr. Robot,” is a sophisticated cyber thriller that features Malek as demon-plagued prodigal hacker "Elliot." Malek’s minimalism and emotionally resonant performance better be recognized next year. 


Melissa Fumero, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” 


There’s something to be said about how this off-the-wall comedy, which features current nominee Andre Braugher and the ceremonies’ host Andy Samberg, is putting a friendly face on the same police department whose officer killed Eric Garner a year ago. That said, Melissa Fumero’s performance as the high-strung Amy Santiago is the most underrated part of the series, driving a lot of the show’s incidental humor while offering insight into the anxiousness that besets most ambitious young women of color making their way in a male, white-dominated field (even if the show isn’t explicit about that). The Cuban-American Fumero has yet to receive the praise she deserves.  


Cristela Alonzo, "Cristela"


Being the first Latina to create, write, produce and star in her own show on a major U.S. network is no small feat. But even ignoring that, comedian Cristela Alonzo’s performance as a beleaguered unpaid legal intern mixes laugh-out-loud sarcasm with the nuance of someone challenging her family’s (and, in its way, society’s) notion of “important work.” She should’ve been nominated for something given her broad skill set and contribution to her own show.


Hannibal Buress, "Broad City”

Despite being the guy who reintroduced the myriad sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby to popular consciousness, Hannibal Buress is a poisonously funny comedian who adds levity and absurdism to all of his guest appearances. His most notable is in Comedy Central’s “Broad City” as Lincoln the dentist, the friend and sometime-hookup of the main character. Without his trademark laid-back delivery and wonder-filled appreciation of his life, “Broad City” would likely just be another overrated show about privileged millennial white women who can’t get their shit together (sorry, too real?). 


Eric Andre, "The Eric Andre Show”


Another one of Buress’ best contributions is as the bewildered guest host on Adult Swim’s manic “Eric Andre Show.” But the show’s creator and namesake, the half-Jewish and half-Haitian Eric Andre, will probably never get the recognition he deserves. Under the surface of its weird-on-weird aesthetics (it is, at present, the most outlandish live-action show on this show block for insomniacs and potheads), “The Eric Andre Show” is a prescient deconstruction of talk shows that sends up political culture and Hollywood’s celebrity obsession. The third season might be the most intensely singular yet. Besides, he straightened his hair to look like Kat Williams, and that’s funny as shit. 


Kumail Nanjiani, "Silicon Valley”

Although Pakistani comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani maybe plays the most token-esque role in the line-up of this Mike Judge HBO show—a South Asian immigrant programmer in Silicon Valley—he complicates the role of Dinesh with amoral decision-making and biting sarcasm. His star will only continue to grow, and Nanjiani will continue to shatter perceptions of what it means to be a brown man on television—even if the best-available roles look so much like stereotypes on first glance. 


Kerry Washington, "Scandal"

Oh yeah, I’m sure you were all waiting for me to talk about Olivia Pope. Speaking of which, why wasn’t Kerry nominated this year? Sure, she’d have to go toe-to-toe with Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis, but after three seasons of gripping drama, incendiary romance and tension-riddled political intrigue, Washington more than deserves her due. I needn’t say more about that—you already know why. 

Who do you think was snubbed? Tell us in the comments!