Since the inception of the Academy Awards, and the creation of film and television itself, Hollywood has had glaring issues with its portrayal of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Their portrayal and dismissal of people of color which was made more visible by the #OscarsSoWhite social media movement during the 2016 Oscars season. And even though movies and television have moved on from white actors in offensively heavy makeup, straight actors with lisping voices or reviled trans characters, Hollywood acknowledgement of the accomplishments of real people of color and LGBTQ+ people is still lacking. That is why this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards winners were such a landmark moment in Hollywood history. Sterling K. Brown, Riz Ahmed, Donald Glover and Reed Morano’s wins provide representation for oppressed voices in media and society. While women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and every combination thereof still face hardship inside and outside of the Hollywood industry, giving their efforts the due attention and recognition they deserve allows them to find a space of artistic expression they may not otherwise be afforded.
Out of all of these, the most groundbreaking win appears to be Lena Waithe’s win for comedy writing in Aziz Ansari’s show “Master of None.”
“I see each and every one of you … the things that make us different, those are our superpowers,” Waithe said. “Every day when you walk out the door, you put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful without us in it.”
Waithe is the first black woman to win for comedy writing. Her acceptance speech was even more impactful when she referred to the LGBTQ+ community as her family. This is heavily reflective of the condition that LGBTQ+ people are forced to live in; they are often separated from their own families due to their bigoted views and forced to make their own families in friends and other relationships they have made within the community. Waithe’s win gives LGBTQ+ youth a point of reference and a figure for hope that their lives can be good, despite the typical narrative rife with tragedy.
Another historic win was for the Netflix original series “Black Mirror” for the fourth episode in their third season, “San Junipero.” The episode won not only one Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, but another for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special. The episode’s LGBTQ+ characters had a heavy resonance with those inside of and outside the fanbase, so this win gives tremendous exposure to a vein of media so staunchly snubbed in previous years. To support media made for, by or featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community allows for more spaces to be made to represent them better and acknowledge the value of their contributions to Hollywood and the arts.
Each of these wins provides oppressed voices in media with not only representation but validation. It is a clear indicator that the academy is recognizing the importance of minority voices. However, there remains the presence of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was invited to give a monologue at the ceremony. While the public can celebrate these awards, the conscious inclusion of Spicer still reflects Hollywood’s refusal to acknowledge accountability for one’s actions. Even with this unfortunate aspect of the awards ceremony, these wins are enough to eclipse his appearance and give burnt out television audiences hope for a better tomorrow. This recognition of women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and intersections therein shows that all is not lost. While recognizing these groups does not completely fix the problem with representation and recognition they are a good, solid starting point.