Underneath the glitz and glamour of Hollywood award shows, lies a deeper, more meaningful platform on which celebrities often opt to address the relevant societal challenges of the moment. Whether actors choose to wear movement-inspired pins or sport all-black attire to signify support, award shows are no stranger to cultural commentary from stars, and the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards were certainly no exception.
The Right Direction
The night brought several significant milestones for people of color within the film industry, as Billy Porter won Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his performance as “Pray Tell” in FX’s Pose, officially becoming the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy in the category.
‘Overwhelmed and overjoyed,’ Billy Porter called upon an essay written by James Baldwin in 1960, titled “They Can’t Turn Back” from which he quoted, “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself and half-believed before I was able to walk on the earth as if I had a right to be here.” Billy picked up right where Baldwin left off, adding, “I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.” Center stage, Emmy in hand, Porter closed his moving speech with a call for change, for awareness, for truth.
We are the people,” he said. “We, as artists, are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.
Billy wasn’t the only Emmy winner of the night who was deadset on standing up and speaking out on inequality, both in and outside of the film industry. Michelle Williams, winner of Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for her performance in FX’s “Fosse/Verdon, addressed the urgent and imperative need for equality in the workplace, calling not only for equal pay for women but also for equal creative voice and vision.
Williams opened her speech explaining how the award serves as an acknowledgment to her “ Of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feels safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they’ll be heard.”
After having received roughly 1.5 million dollars less than her male co-star, Mark Wahlberg, for 10 days of reshooting scenes for their recent film “All the Money in the World,” Williams was visibly overcome by gratitude as she thanked FX and to Fox 21 Studios for the respect and equal pay she received for her performance, which ultimately won her an Emmy.
All of these things, they require effort, and they cost more money, but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job.
In an astutely insightful comment on the circuitous nature of equality and the power that lies therein, Williams explained, “When you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value, and then where do they put that value? They put it into their work.”
Michelle Williams closed her speech by addressing the dire unmet needs of those women who continue to be most affected by inequality in the workplace; women of color. In an assertive call for action, Michelle Williams desperately pleaded for change.
The next time a woman — and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her. Because one day, she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.
While the evening was undeniably historic due to record-breaking wins for actors of color, thanks to Billy Porter’s moving acceptance speech appealing to self-love and the acceptance of all people, and Michelle William’s honest and discerning supplication for women’s equality in the workplace, the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards show was more than just ground-breaking; it was a rallying cry for increased social awareness, comprehensive equality, and absolute inclusion, for all.