Andi MCCloud | Staff Writer
Flickr User Robert Brianza
Mainstream award shows such as the Emmys have been slow to embrace the work of minorities. The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards flipped the script.
The Sept. 22 event recognized diverse people in a television industry where they are often overlooked and undervalued. Those taking home Emmy awards were more than just winners. Through the projects they worked on, their nominations, wins and speeches, they all advocated for and encouraged activism from viewers.
Perhaps the most inspiring moment of Emmys history that night was the success of 50-year-old actor Billy Porter. He became the first outwardly gay black man to be nominated and win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for playing emcee Pray Tell on Pose.
“The category is love, y’all,” Porter said on the telecast in accepting his award. “I am so overwhelmed, and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day.”
He then added a quote from James Baldwin: “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on this Earth as though I had a right to be here. I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.”
His swanky outfit, with a large flowing hat and sparkly black suit, was nothing short of everyone’s expectations from the former Kinky Boots star.
Jharrel Jerome was the first Afro-Latino actor to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. The young actor took home an Emmy for his moving portrayal of Korey Wise, one of the “Central Park Five,” in Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us on Netflix. His win was followed with the most rousing applause of the night and a standing ovation from the audience at The Microsoft Theater located in Los Angeles.
Jeremy Hawkins, a Hampton University film studies major, described that moment as “exhilarating.”
“That was inspirational to watch,” Hawkins said. “I mean I don’t even want to be an actor, but to know I could create that sort of energy is inspiring.”
RuPaul won Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and is the second-most awarded African-American person in Emmy history with six wins, putting him just behind Hayma Washington, who has seven.
The recognition of minorities this year did not stop at award wins. Michelle Williams advocated for equal pay for women of color while accepting the lead actress award for her role in “Fosse/Verdon.” In her time onstage, Patricia Arquette spoke on the persecution of trans people and paid tribute to her late sister and transgender actress, Alexis Arquette.
“It’s not like the Emmys got ‘blacker and better this year,” said Hampton University student Nyla Whyte said. “There is still a lot of representation lacking, but these small wins that represent all minorities will continue to make history — motivating and encouraging more people to believe they can do it, too.”