Long regarded as the “biggest night in television,” the 75th Emmys is swiftly approaching. On top of celebrating the legacy of great television such as The Sopranos, Martin, Cheers, Grey’s Anatomy, this year’s award ceremony will commemorate another major stride. For the first time in history, the 75th Emmys will feature an all-Black executive producer team.
At the helm of this historic team are two dynamic women, Dionne Harmon, and Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, who are not only breaking barriers but are also championing a new era of inclusivity in the world of television. Their journey to the top echelons of Emmy production reflects a determination to amplify underrepresented voices.
Harmon, who also holds the title as President of Jesse Collins Entertainment, has an extensive background in television production and a history of advocating for diversity in the industry. No stranger to pushing boundaries, she’s a seasoned executive producer, with accolades for her work on acclaimed shows that celebrate diversity. Rouzan-Clay, an industry veteran known for her innovative approach to television production, joins Harmon in this groundbreaking endeavor. With a career spanning decades, Rouzan-Clay has been a vocal advocate for creating spaces where all voices can be heard, making her another great addition to this historic team.
Of leading an all-Black, women-dominant team, Harmon tells ESSENCE, “As women, we are constantly faced with discrimination and other challenges just by our mere existence. For that reason, we’ve had to develop a unique set of skills just to move in the world. These skills – ingenuity, strength, grace, resourcefulness and persistence (among others), all come into play when tasked with producing one of the biggest award shows on television.”
The decision to assemble an all-black executive producer team signals a departure from the industry’s historical norms – in fact, UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity report in 2020 found that white individuals comprised 92 percent of the chairs or CEOs of 11 major studios, with men accounting for 68 percent of these positions. In the broader category of executives, 93 percent of positions were occupied by white individuals, and 80 percent were held by men. The entertainment world has long grappled with issues of diversity and inclusion, and the 75th Primetime Emmys are poised to be a turning point in the ongoing conversation about representation in television.
You see this notion reflected in some of the presenters paired as part of the special cast reunions, including Tisha Campbell, Carl Anthony Payne II, Tichina Arnold, and Martin Lawrence reuniting as the cast of the hit show, Martin. Colman Domingo (Euphoria) and Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish) are also confirmed to present.
“I have found that sometimes being seen AND HEARD can be a daunting task in rooms where the Black female voice is outnumbered. In my almost 20 year career in television entertainment I have found that it is important to remain assertive with a smile, and back up my thoughts and suggestions with concrete evidence,” says Rouzan-Clay. “‘You should book or hire this person because they are qualified and here are the receipts.’ Throughout my career, in some cases those “receipts” have even had to support my own upward mobility. No matter the challenge, remaining vigilant in pitching new minority faces and voices remains paramount in my work as a producer.”
As women in an industry that has historically been male-dominated, Harmon and Rouzan-Clay are keenly aware of the significance of their roles and the impact they can have on future generations of women in television. “By just being in this role – a black female executive producer of The Emmys, the narrative surrounding award shows is changing,” Harmon explains. “There are young women and young black people who will now see what we are doing and know that it is a real possibility for them, and that will create a pipeline of creatives who will ensure that inclusivity becomes more of the norm and not the exception.”
Rouzan-Clay echoes a similar sentiment, saying, “I feel that our contributions, when it comes to thinking of and including women in front of the camera and behind the scenes, is evident when we produce shows. Whether it is pitching concepts for performers, writers or presenters, we are always going to make sure that the scales are balanced. Oftentimes that means pitching some new, lesser known names in the space, which gives us the opportunity to freshen the face of award show television all around.”
The pair’s role helming the upcoming Emmys serves as a catalyst for change within the industry, and they’re making a point to hold the door open for others to enter as well, whether that be in front of the camera or behind the scenes. “Once an individual gains experience on one of our shows, they are able to take what they have learned and use it to move forward in their career across the broader entertainment landscape,” Harmon says.
The collaborative efforts among the all-black executive producer team have been a driving force in creating a production that reflects the richness and diversity of modern television. The team’s varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, ensures a more comprehensive and cultural approach to the production.
“This is the 75th anniversary of The Emmys, and in our show, we will honor seven decades of television that have entertained diverse audiences all across the country and the world. For this reason, it is important that the production team for the show be reflective of that diverse audience so we can properly acknowledge and celebrate everyone.
The 75th Emmy Awards will air this Monday, Jan. 15 (8:00-11:00 PM EST/5:00-8:00 PM PST), on FOX and will also be available the next day on Hulu.