Film Forward

Diversity Was One Of The Biggest Winners At This Year's Emmy Awards

History was made in several categories.

Diversity took center stage at this year's Emmy Awards, as female-focused stories took home the gold, and people of color made history for their work in front of and behind the camera. The television industry is by no means perfect when it comes to representation, but this is progress worth celebrating, and a reminder of just how many amazing stories there are to tell from a variety of talented voices.

Just from looking at the big four categories (Drama Series, Comedy Series, Limited Series, TV Movie), it's clear that this year's Emmy voters valued stories about women. Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale won for Outstanding Drama Series, as did actresses Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd. Outstanding Comedy went to HBO's Veep, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning her record-breaking sixth Emmy in a row for acting. 

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Big Little Lies, the female-driven drama miniseries on HBO, took home the award for Limited Series, with Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern winning acting awards. Kidman took the opportunity during her acceptance speech to highlight the show's honest depiction of domestic violence

"Thank God we're seeing more and more women," Dern said after her win. "Revolution creates voice and voice is exciting … It's a beautiful time to be female."

Then there's the Netflix series Black Mirror, whose episode "San Junipero" — which told the story of an interracial lesbian couple — won for TV Movie, as well as Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series.

It was also a history-making night for actors of color, amidst a record 27 nominations for non-White performers. Riz Ahmed won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his role on HBO's The Night Of, becoming the first Asian man to win an acting Emmy, and only the second Asian performer to ever do so, after Archie Panjabi won in 2010 for The Good Wife.

In a backstage interview, Ahmed spoke about diversity, mentioning actor Ed Skrein's recent decision to drop out of a whitewashed role in Hellboy. "Awareness is the first step to real change," Ahmed said.

Sterling K. Brown also won his second Emmy in two years, this time for his role on NBC's This Is Us, becoming the first Black man in 19 years to win the Best Lead Actor in a Drama award. His acceptance speech was cut off, but he got to finish speaking backstage. Brown spoke of his admiration for Andre Braugher, the last Black actor to win in his category, adding, "I never thought that this was a possibility. And to be standing here 19 years after him, I just want to represent."

Atlanta creator Donald Glover, meanwhile, made history of his own in two different categories. Not only is he the first Black performer to win Lead Actor in a Comedy since Robert Guillaume won for Benson in 1985, but he's the first Black director ever to win in the Comedy category.

"I'm happy it happened, but I think, aim for just greatness," Glover told E! News about his historic win.

It was also a big night for women behind the camera, as Lena Waithe took home the award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series with Aziz Ansari for Master of None. Waithe is the first Black woman to be nominated in the category. The audience gave the pair a standing ovation, and Waithe told the crowd, "Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer Black girl from the South Side of Chicago."

Then there's Reed Morano, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for her work on The Handmaid's Tale. She's the first woman to win in the category in 22 years. As Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein wrote on Twitter, "This is what happens when you give women opportunities. They hit it out of the park!!!"

There's still work to be done, but this years' Emmys showed progress. In writing about the ceremony for Gold Derby, Daniel Montgomery presented the television-focused show as an example for the Oscars, where diversity has been a little harder to come by over the years.

"I just felt that, watching the Emmys this year, I had a better idea of what an industry might look like when more people get to speak and more of those people are actually listened to," Montgomery wrote, and we have to agree.

As one tweet from Sunday night conveyed so succinctly, even just seeing the phrase "Emmy Award winner" in front of someone's name can make a big impact.

Cover image via YouTube

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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