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“It comes with a lot of pressure, being Black, hosting a job like this,” 2021 Primetime Emmys host Cedric the Entertainer joked near the top of the show. “My people, they expect that I can just give an award to anybody. Black people like, ‘Yo Ced, come on man, you gotta give Martin Lawrence an Emmy. And not just Martin, Ced, you gotta give Sheneneh one too.’
“Jimmy Kimmel don’t have that problem. He don’t have to give no award to Tony Danza,” the comedian continued.
Clearly it was just a joke, because very few Black people — or people of color in general — won at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. Although performers from the global majority comprised 44 percent of acting nominees heading into Sunday night, white actors ultimately swept all 12 lead and supporting races across the comedy, drama and limited series categories. (At the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend, three of the four winning guest actors were Black: Lovecraft Country‘s Courtney B. Vance and Saturday Night Live hosts Dave Chappelle and Maya Rudolph.)
Whereas several wins had been considered foregone conclusions — mostly in the comedy categories, which as expected went to the Ted Lasso ensemble and Hacks leading lady Jean Smart — the late Michael K. Williams was upset for supporting actor by an absent Tobias Menzies, part of The Crown‘s clean sweep in the drama races. Some thought The Crown‘s dual nominees for lead actress would cancel each other out, leading to a historic Emmy for Pose‘s Mj Rodriguez, who would have been the first transgender performer to win in a lead acting category. Other near milestones that will have to wait for another year include first Chinese American or first non-binary performer for supporting actor, comedy (SNL‘s Bowen Yang and Hacks‘ Carl Clemons-Hopkins, respectively); first Afro-Latina for supporting actress, comedy (The Flight Attendant‘s Rosie Perez); and first two-time Black lead actor, drama winners since Bill Cosby’s back-to-back wins in 1966-67 (a win for either Pose‘s Billy Porter or This is Us‘ Sterling K. Brown would have done it).
Although the Emmys producers took pains to keep the ceremony diverse — DJ Reggie Watts, announcer MC Lyte and In Memoriam tribute musicians Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste joined a racially diverse array of presenters — the first non-white winners of the night came one hour in, courtesy of Ali Barthwell, Greg Iwinski and Mark Kramer, three writers of color on Last Week Tonight‘s 14-scribe staff. RuPaul was the first Emmy winner of color to take the mic — at the 1-hour-and-52-minute mark — accepting the outstanding reality competition Emmy on behalf of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (That statuette was RuPaul’s 11th career Emmy, enough for him to surpass cinematographer Donald A. Morgan as the Emmys’ most decorated Black winner.)
A few minutes later, I May Destroy You creator Michaela Coel was the second of just three Emmy recipients from the global majority to speak onstage, as she became the first Black woman to win outstanding writing in a limited series. Debbie Allen — previously announced as this year’s Governors Award honoree — was the third. “It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time,” said the acclaimed dancer, choreographer, actress, writer, producer and director, the first woman of color to receive the Governors Award since the board began conferring it in 1978. She is the second person of color to receive it, after Tyler Perry last year.
Other winners of color on the night included some of the producers behind outstanding variety talk show Last Week Tonight, outstanding reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, outstanding variety special (live) Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020 and outstanding variety special (pre-recorded) Hamilton.
“The good news is there are a lot of Black people nominated tonight,” Cedric the Entertainer said early in the evening. “Like my dawg Anthony Anderson. … This is Anthony’s 11th nomination, but tonight he’s up against Michael Douglas and Ted Lasso. So good luck, partner, but I gotta say, looks like it’s still hard out here for a pimp.”
Sept. 20, 1:07 p.m. Corrected to reflect that Rosie Perez would have been the first Afro-Latina Emmy winner for supporting actress, comedy. Jackee Harry was the first woman from the global majority to win in the category, in 1987 for her role in 227.
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