Anthony Anderson, the controversial Emmys host whose casting has sparked a backlash

Anthony Anderson, who has been nominated for numerous Emmys himself  (Getty)
Anthony Anderson, who has been nominated for numerous Emmys himself (Getty)

For comedian and actor Anthony Anderson, stepping on stage to host the postponed Emmys on Monday night will represent the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do…” the 53-year-old Black-ish star told Entertainment Tonight recently. “I wanted it to happen years ago, but everything happens when it’s supposed to happen.” For many, however, the decision to let Anderson preside over television’s biggest night is a controversial one. His chequered past, which includes multiple sexual assault allegations, has sparked a growing backlash to his casting.

Earlier this week, screenwriter Alanna Bennett tweeted: “Anthony Anderson hosting the Emmys… do the producers just not Google these people?” The Sexual Violence Prevention Association went one step further, demanding that Fox remove Anderson as host and imploring both the Emmys and Fox “to do better due diligence when selecting hosts in the future”.

The first allegations against Anderson emerged in 2004, when he and assistant director Wayne Witherspoon were accused of raping a 25-year-old extra on the Memphis set of rapper drama Hustle & Flow. A witness claimed to have heard screams and then seen the woman running naked from a trailer before she was treated at St Francis Hospital. As The Daily Beast reported, Anderson was charged with aggravated rape and released after posting a $20,000 bond. Anderson denied the allegations, and a spokesperson said in a statement: “Anthony is a happily married family man who has never been accused of – no less involved in – anything remotely like this, and we are confident that when all the facts come out, he will be completely exonerated.” A Memphis judge threw out the case, calling it “the most suspicious case I’ve ever heard”.

Shortly afterwards, Anderson faced a second accusation from a woman who said he assaulted her on the set of his short-lived sitcom All About the Andersons. At the time, Anderson’s representative said he “unequivocally denies the allegations” and claimed that the “ridiculous rape charges pending against him in Memphis had made him a target”.

Those charges in Tennessee were eventually dropped when a judge found there was not sufficient probable cause to try the case, but then in 2018 Anderson was accused of sexual misconduct for a third time. A woman in Los Angeles claimed that Anderson had assaulted her a year previously, and that she now felt comfortable coming forward in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Anderson denied the allegation. LAPD opened an investigation that July, but by September The Hollywood Reporter wrote that: “Authorities say she declined to be interviewed after filing the initial report. Therefore, that case was declined.”

Anderson has never been convicted of any crime, and the allegations themselves have done little if anything to derail his career. Indeed, even before landing the hosting gig, he’d become an Emmys regular, nominated seven years in a row for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance in Black-ish. (He was also nominated four times as a producer for his work on the Kenya Barris-helmed sitcom.) Anderson’s signature role as cocky patriarch Andre “Dre” Johnson showcased both his easy charm and charisma and his family-man shtick, something he’s mined throughout his career.

Anderson, born in Compton in 1970, credits his mother Doris with first inspiring his dreams of finding a place in the entertainment industry. At the age of nine, he watched her rehearsing for a production of A Raisin in the Sun at Compton Community College and saw a vision of his own future. “I remember looking up from the back of the theatre and just seeing my mom on stage with the actors, and I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,’” Anderson told Variety in 2020. “Since I had that epiphany, that’s all I ever wanted.”

After an unsuccessful stint as a stand-up, Anderson landed his first television role in 1995 with a part in LL Cool J’s sitcom In the House. Movie parts soon followed, and Anderson smartly showed his range with an eclectic set of performances in films as diverse as the broad Martin Lawrence comedy Big Momma’s House and the Jet Li-starring action flick Romeo Must Die (both 2000). Anderson proved himself an actor of real intelligence, even when playing a farcically slow-witted security guard, as in the former.

Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in ‘Black-ish’ (American Broadcasting Companies, Inc)
Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in ‘Black-ish’ (American Broadcasting Companies, Inc)

As buzz built around his burgeoning film career, Anderson instead decided to focus on television – a move that surely endeared him to the Emmys. He developed his own sitcom, All About the Andersons, but continued to show his dramatic chops with turns in hard-hitting crimes series including The Shield and Law & Order. “Before I was typecast, I wanted them to see there was more to me as an actor than just comedy,” Anderson has said. “People took notice – like, ‘Oh wow, he’s not just the fat funny guy! Wait a minute, there’s some depth to him!’”

These days, Anderson has never been busier. Since Black-ish ended its run in 2022, he’s built a multifaceted screen career, often with his mother by his side. They appeared together in the European travel series Trippin’ with Anthony Anderson and Mama Doris and this month the pair began hosting the new game show We Are Family, a job that had initially been earmarked for Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne.

It may well be this latest role that did more than anything else to help him land his long-coveted Emmys gig, with Fox’s president of unscripted programming Allison Wallach saying in a statement: “After Anthony hosted our upcoming show, We Are Family, we knew he’d be a natural fit for a star-studded, anticipatory night like the Emmys. Anthony’s known for his humour, heart and spontaneity, so he’s sure to give audiences in the theatre and at home a night they’ll never forget.”

Unsurprisingly, Anderson has made it clear his mother will once again be by his side on the Emmys stage, resuming a double act that TV producer Jeff Apploff has described as “one of the best 1-2 dynamics on television”.

Unlike Jo Koy, who earned tepid reviews for his laugh-free stint presiding over this week’s Golden Globes, Anderson also has a decade of awards show experience to inform his role at the Emmys. He served as host of the NAACP Image Awards for nine consecutive years from 2014 to 2022 – making him the longest-running host in that ceremony’s history – and he has filled in for Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live, James Corden on The Late Late Show with James Corden and Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Fox, then, will see him as a safe pair of hands to pick up from previous Emmys hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Cedric the Entertainer and Kenan Thompson. On the night, he and his mother will aim to bring a wholesome quality to the awards show that sits in stark contrast to the sexual assault allegations. No matter how brilliant his jokes are, there are some who won’t be laughing.

The 75th Primetime Emmy Awards will be held on Monday 15 January, telecast live for US viewers on the Fox network starting at 8pm ET/5pm PT, and available to stream the following day on Hulu