With the help of Viola Davis and Christopher Jackson of Hamilton fame, the 2017 Emmys paid a touching tribute to the late performers, crew, and executives who have helped to make some of America’s favorite shows. Clips of Alan Thicke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Florence Henderson played as photos of them in picture frames floated across the screen. Jackson sang a medley version of Stevie Wonder’s “I’ll Be Loving You Always” that would have made anyone tear up. But there were at least two names missing for the list of actors who passed away in the past year.
Charlie Murphy, the brother of iconic comedian Eddie Murphy and a legend in his own right, died from leukemia on April 12, 2017. He began his acting career in the ‘80s and became immortalized for his role as a guest star on Dave Chappelle’s Chappelle’s Show. He was the force that helped Chappelle bring his infamous impersonations of Prince and Rick James to life.
Additionally, Dick Gregory is known primarily as an activist known for speaking out against racism and anti-Blackness. However, he also took advantage of stand-up comedy and acting to help spread his message. On August 19, 2017 he die of heart failure at a Washington, D.C. hospital. He was 84.
Neither Murphy nor Gregory were included in Sunday’s touching tribute, despite their contributions to acting and television. And people definitely noticed. Some on Twitter have suggested that the exclusion stems from the fact that both of them are Black men.
This isn’t an outlandish argument. Black culture, including the actors and programming within it, often goes overlooked by mainstream institutions like the Emmys. If neither Gregory nor Murphy were considered significant enough to be included, it would be sad, but unsurprising. However, we remember. Their contributions will not go forgotten within their own communities. And this year at least, that has to be enough.