Inclusivity Takes Center Stage at the Emmys

By Erin Cabrey

Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe scored writing wins for their work on “Master of None.” (Courtesy of Twitter)

If there was one theme prevalent across Hollywood’s biggest award shows of 2017, it was the political dissonance in our country. The Golden Globes, Oscars and Grammys earlier this year set the stage for another politically charged award show when the Emmys, hosted by Stephen Colbert, rolled around this Sunday. While attendees and viewers were unsurprised at the onslaught of jokes and digs at the president, an unexpected theme seemed to nudge these quips out of first place. At the 2017 Emmy Awards, inclusivity in the form of women and people of color was the name of the game, creating a sort of hope and harmony among the madness.

The biggest story to come out of this year’s Emmys (in the form of social media shares) was the cameo by Sean Spicer. Rolling out with his podium in the vein of Melissa McCarthy’s now iconic portrayal of the former White House Press Secretary, Spicer uttered a re-working of his now infamous line, declaring the audience “the biggest audience to witness an Emmys, period. both in person and around the world.” This appearance caused a social media uproar, with some claiming the inclusion of Spicer in the show was normalizing his previous egregious behavior.

The Spicer appearance was the only significant blip in a show otherwise defined by big, socially significant wins. “Saturday Night Live,” fresh off its most-watched season in more than 20 years, was the night’s biggest winner, collecting nine awards, including one for Variety Sketch Series. The show also scored wins for Guest Actress Melissa McCarthy and Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Kate McKinnon, with the latter thanking Hillary Clinton for her “grace and grit” in her acceptance speech.

“Big Little Lies” was another of the night’s standouts, winning in the Limited Series Drama category, along with acting wins for Laura Dern, Alexander Skaarsgard and Nicole Kidman. Kidman, who played a victim of domestic violence in the HBO hit, acknowledged the issue in her speech. “It exists far more than we allow ourselves to know,” said Kidman. “It is filled with shame and secrecy, and by you acknowledging me with this award, it shines a light on it even more.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” was another female-led show that dominated the awards, with Elisabeth Moss earning the trophy for Leading Actress in a Drama, her first Emmy win in nine nominations. The show also took home the Drama Series prize, the first streaming show to ever win the honor. The show’s executive producer Bruce Miller accepted the award, telling the crowd, “Go home, get to work. We have a lot of things to fight for.”

Other standout winners included “Atlanta” star Donald Glover, a first-time Emmy recipient, who claimed two awards for Acting and Comedy Directing, and thanked Trump for “making black people number one on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here,” said Glover.

Riz Ahmed took home the acting honor for Limited Series Drama for his role in HBO’s “The Night Of,” making him only the second Asian actor to be awarded an Emmy. Ahmed, who played a college student-turned-Rikers-Island-prisoner, used his speech to call attention to the criminal justice system. “I want to say it is always strange reaping the rewards of a story based on real-world suffering, but if this show has shown a light on some of the prejudice in our societies, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that is something,” said Ahmed.

Emmy history was made in the Comedy Series Writing category, with “Master of None” star Lena Waithe winning the honor for co-writing with series star and co-creator Aziz Ansari. Waithe, whose work on the episode “Thanksgiving” chronicled Waithe’s character Denise coming out as lesbian to her family over seven Thanksgivings, is the first African American woman to win in this category. After being greeted with a standing ovation, Waithe addressed the LGBTQIA community in her speech, stating “The things that make us different—those are our superpowers.”

Waithe’s remarks echo the true focus of this year’s Emmy Awards. Despite the inevitability of Trump jokes at any Hollywood gathering, another more crucial theme— one celebrating difference, diversity and defiance— was the one that ultimately prevailed. The words at the 2017 Emmy Awards that emphasized these themes, rang much louder and more distinctly than the awkward laughter at a defamed cast-off from the Trump Administration.