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At the 74th annual Emmy Awards, there were just as many winners from the global majority honored for their achievements behind the camera as in front of it.
To be clear: Out of 25 competitive categories presented live during the Primetime Emmys telecast, seven awards went to people of color, or to programs fronted by them. (The other 18 went to The White Lotus, Mike White and other whites.) The Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media also received this year’s Governors Award for its data-driven work in promoting inclusion in the television industry.
For the second time in Emmys history (the first was in 2017), both lead performer statuettes in drama went to actors from the global majority: repeat winner Zendaya for Euphoria and Lee Jung-jae for Squid Game. The Korean superstar is the first Asian actor to win in his category and just the third male actor of Asian descent overall to ever win an Emmy (following limited series lead actor winners Riz Ahmed and Darren Criss). He is the second performer ever to be singled out by the Television Academy for a performance completely in a language other than English — edged out by just a week by Squid Game guest actress Lee Yoo-mi, who received her trophy last weekend at the Creative Arts Emmys.
Zendaya and Lee Jung-jae joined Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph as the three performers to win acting Emmys during Monday night’s ceremony. Ralph, a respected industry veteran winning her first major Emmy, already had the crowd on its feet even before she belted out the opening verse to Dianne Reeves’ 1994 jazz track “Endangered Species” as part of her rousing, instant-classic acceptance speech.
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like,” she declared after she sang. Ralph is the second Black woman — and woman of color, period — to win in the comedy supporting actress category, following Jackée Harry for 227 in 1987, a fact that Harry herself tweeted upon Ralph’s win: “Winning my Emmy was a career highlight, but it was also a lonely experience,” she wrote. “For 35 years I’ve been the only Black woman to win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. But that all changes tonight… and it’s come full circle!”
The other four talents from the global majority who gave acceptance speeches on Monday night received their Emmys for their behind-the-scenes involvement, although three were also the onscreen faces for their respective programs: Lizzo (competition program), Jerrod Carmichael (writing for variety special), Quinta Brunson (writing for comedy series) and Hwang Dong-hyuk (directing for drama series).
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was someone like me in the media: fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me,” said a joyful Lizzo, accepting as executive producer for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. “If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You’re gonna see that person, but bitch, it’s gonna have to be you.'”
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