This year's Emmy nominees in major comedy categories include Anthony Anderson in “Blackish,” Don Cheadle in “House of Lies,” Andre Braugher in “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” Tituss Burgess in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Keegan-Michael Key in “Key & Peele,” and Niecy Nash in “Getting On.” If any three of them win, they will double the amount of black series cast members ever to win comedy Emmys.
Three black performers have won Emmys in lead and supporting comedy categories. The last African-American winner was Jackée (Harry) in 1987 for her supporting role as the saucy Sandra on “227.” Before that, Robert Guillaume picked up a supporting actor Emmy for “Soap” in 1979 and a lead actor Emmy for its spinoff “Benson” in 1985. Isabel Sanford won for playing Louise “Weezy” Jefferson on “The Jeffersons” in 1981.
The guest actor comedy Emmys have a slightly better track record. Before Uzo Aduba picked up her guest actress trophy for “Orange is the New Black” last year, Cleavon Little was the last African-American to win a comedy Emmy for his guest work on “Dear John” in 1989.
Yes, that's right: We went through the entire '90s and 2000s without awarding a single comedy Emmy to an African-American performer.
The drama categories have a few more winners including Bill Cosby for “I Spy” (though he was never nominated for “The Cosby Show”), James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair for “Gabriel's Fire,” Andre Braugher for “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Alfre Woodard for “Hill Street Blues,” Mary Alice for “I'll Fly Away,” and Gail Mannix, the first African-American performer to win an Emmy, for “Mannix” in 1970.
Altogether, ten black actors have won Emmys in the lead and supporting comedy divisions since the ceremony's inception. Thankfully, this year has the potential for a big statistical spike.