‘Black-ish, other contenders could signal Emmy diversity

Emmy Awards

Sept. 18, ABC

LOS ANGELES — It’s time for television to celebrate itself, again, with a shower of Emmy Award nominations. And why not?

Pop culture’s ability to trace the intricacies of our social fabric shouldn’t be undervalued, with TV in its various guises — broadcast, cable or streaming — proving more up to the job than its big-screen brother, Oscar.

In contrast to the Academy Awards, slammed for overwhelming whiteness, the 68th Emmy nominations to be announced Thursday could play to TV’s strength, its relative willingness to give more viewpoints and more people, including minorities and women, a seat at the table.

“Black-ish,” “Roots,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and other shows vying for recognition make the point. The hit sitcom “black-ish,” which has masterfully teased insight and humor out of troubling issues including police brutality and the casually used N-word, is poised to have a breakout showing for its sophomore season.

Anthony Anderson, who received the show’s sole 2015 nod as lead comedy actor, should expect a second and, this time, be joined by his worthy leading lady, Tracee Ellis Ross. The show itself, from creator Kenya Barris, is in the hunt for top comedy honors.

“I think it’s going to have a major (Emmy) presence,” said Tom O’Neil, editor and president of the Gold Derby awards handicapping website. “It’s critically respected, it has a strong viewer base and it’s about diversity at a time that’s a pressing issue across Hollywood.”

Anderson and Lauren Graham are to announce the nominations Thursday morning at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles.

Viola Davis, who last year became the first woman of color to win a best drama series actress Emmy, likely will be a contender again for “How to Get Away With Murder,” with Taraji P. Henson of “Empire” also an expected part of the field.

Limited series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” stands to reap nods for its multiethnic cast that includes Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran; Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson; Sarah Paulson playing Marcia Clark and Kenneth Choi as Judge Lance Ito.

The transgender-themed “Transparent,” which earned a best actor trophy for star Jeffrey Tambor, could get another shot at top comedy. “Veep,” which broke the hold of five-time champ “Modern Family” last year to win, will attempt to stay in office again. Other contenders may include “The Big Bang Theory,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Silicon Valley.”

“Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won four consecutive best comedy actress Emmys for the kind of juicy leading role — U.S. president — that actresses are hard-pressed to find in big-screen releases. That’s even truer for Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat,” the rare Asian-American to lead a project, TV or theatrical.

Wu and her co-star, Randall Park, both are considered likely nominees and would join the small ranks of Asian-Americans to receive Emmy notice.

The awards also have a chance to address the scarcity of Indian-American contenders with Aziz Ansari and his acclaimed comedy “Master of None,” and Latinos with Gina Rodriguez’s Golden Globe-honored performance in “Jane the Virgin.”

Such attention carries weight beyond Hollywood, said Hawaiian-born actor Kalani Queypo, who portrayed an historic Native American figure, Squanto, in the miniseries “Saints & Strangers.”

“I think about native kids who are watching and an experience, like a nomination, especially a win, it creates an opportunity for them because the dream doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It’s within reach, you know? It’s someone who looks like them,” Queypo said.

There’s creative range as well to be considered by the TV academy’s 22,000 voters who, unlike the invitation-only Oscars club of 6,000-plus, rely on their professional experience to gain admission.

The lavish and complex “Game of Thrones” will try to repeat its 2015 victory in the best drama series category, a rarity for a fantasy saga. Among its potential rivals: breakout cyber-thriller “Mr. Robot,” starring Rami Malek playing a hacker with a cause.

For fans of English comfort food, the farewell season of “Downton Abbey” and its stars, including previous winner Maggie Smith, will make their last stand for Emmy honors. Other best drama contenders include the last season of “The Good Wife,” “House of Cards,” “Billions” and “The Americans.”

The Emmy ceremony, with host Jimmy Kimmel, will air Sept. 18 on ABC.