The Emmy’s Got So Much Right (And So Much Wrong) In One Night
By: Steve Hladik
Perhaps it’s oddly fitting on how this past Sunday’s Emmy Awards achieved both extreme levels of progress and change in the same night. It also achieved one of the most tone-deaf award show moments, maybe ever? The Sean Spicer cameo (which will be written about in greater length in a separate article) happening in the same night as some of the most diverse winners took the stage signals just how much progress we have made and how much more we have to go in the Trump-era.
The Spicer moment, in short, was a gross, offensive, miscalculated attempt at some kind of humor, I’m not even sure which. An effort to bridge the gap between the Trump administration and the entertainment industry? A way of showing how liberal Hollywood is able to find humor in distressing times? I don’t know exactly what went into the decision to bring Sean Spicer out on stage within minutes of the telecast and pretend like he didn’t spend the past several months lying to America and working for a crooked, bigoted administration, but the repercussions will perhaps be felt throughout coming telecasts.
However, if the night brought any other repercussions that future Emmy’s (and every other award show for that matter) should take notice off, it’s the level of diversity and inclusiveness that ran through all of the night’s winners and speeches. Pretty much ever winner genuinely deserved their trophy, there weren’t, for my money, any head-scratching wins or groan-inducing moments throughout the rest of the telecast. In fact, this may be my favorite set of winners at any award show I ever watched.
From the first awards to the night's top prize, the Television Academy chose to reward a variety of shows and artists that represent social change and justice, and broke many records along the way. For starters, HBO’s Big Little Lies deservedly swept the Miniseries categories, taking home awards for Outstanding Miniseries, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Directing. The show, which celebrates the complexities and interior lives of modern women, was a major presence throughout the night, with many of the speeches stemming from the show, from Laura Dern’s acknowledgement of “the tribe of women” who worked on the show to Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman’s passionate plea to put more women in the center of stories and “make them the heroes of their own stories” helped cement perhaps the night’s most common theme: girl power.
In addition, Nicole Kidman’s speech for her Lead Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie win as an abused housewife in the show ended with a moving sentiment about domestic violence. The other major “girl power” player of the night was Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale, which swept the drama categories with wins in Drama Series (making Hulu the first streaming network to win an Outstanding Series award) Lead Actress in a Drama for Elisabeth Moss, Supporting Actress in a Drama for Ann Dowd, Guest Actress in a Drama for Alexis Bledel, Writing and Directing among others. The Handmaid’s Tale became this year's major breakout show due to its prevalent subject matter about women's rights and autonomy, and to see the Television Academy honor such a feminist project, in categories which have previously been dominated by Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and other male-centric shows was quite thrilling, and displayed a real sense of awareness around the injustices happening today (and Margaret Atwood got a much deserved standing ovation.)
Speaking of much deserved standing ovation, Lena Waithe received one as she made history as the first African American woman to receive the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Master of None which she shared with co-writer and co-star Aziz Ansari. “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers” proclaimed Waithe as she gave a rousing thank you to the LGBTQIA community.
Another first for African Americans came in the Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series category which went to none other than Donald Glover. Glover became the first African American to win the award and also took home the trophy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Atlanta, which he created. The two other Lead Actor awards, in Drama and Miniseries/TV Movie, also went to actors of color. Sterling K. Brown won Drama for his work as America’s new favorite TV dad in This Is Us and Riz Ahmed took home the Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie Emmy for his role in HBO’s The Night Of, which is a gritty and realistic portrait of how our criminal justice system fails people of color. Lastly, the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” which centers on the interracial romance between two women in the 1980’s took home Outstanding TV Movie and Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or TV Movie.
As conversations about diverse storytelling are moving to the forefront of the industry, the 69th Annual Emmy Awards had a lot to be proud of, but the work is not anywhere near done. We have to make sure events like these aren’t just flukes, they need to become the norm. We need to reach a day when there are no more “First’s…” As Bruce Miller, producer of The Handmaids Tale said in their Best Drama Series “Go home, get to work, we have a lot of things to fight for.”