Wins by women and people of color broke new ground in Hollywood.

By Claire Zillman
September 18, 2017

Amid the glitz and glam and—of course—political commentary of the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, there was also history making and barrier breaking.

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO’s Veep were the big winners Sunday night, taking home the coveted prizes for Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series, respectively. But among the other awards handed out, several wins by women and people of color broke new ground in Hollywood.

Donald Glover became the first black person to win an Emmy for directing a comedy series for his work on FX’s Atlanta. Glover won a second award Sunday night, receiving the nod for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, again for Atlanta. It’s been 32 years since a person of color won in that category.

Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy, when she—along with Aziz Ansari—nabbed the statue for Best Writing for a Comedy Series for Netflix’s Master of None. In accepting the award, Waithe delivered a powerful speech, thanking the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community.

“I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers—every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it,” she said. “And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”

Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his starring role in The Night Of on HBO. The honor made him the first man of South Asian descent and the second Asian entertainer ever to win an Emmy.

Amid the wins by relative newcomers, television veteran Julia Louis-Dreyfus snagged the statue for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep. Louis-Dreyfus’s win—her sixth consecutive for Veep—broke Candice Bergen’s record of Emmy wins for a single role (Murphy Brown) and tied Cloris Leachman’s record eight Emmy wins by a single performer.

Meanwhile, other prizes awarded Sunday night broke lengthy Emmy droughts. This Is Us star Sterling Brown, for instance, became the first black actor to win in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category in 19 years. Likewise, Reed Morano, director of The Handmaid’s Tale, was the first woman to win an Emmy for Best Directing in a Drama Series since 1995 when Mimi Leder took home the honor for ER.

The history-making wins of women and people of color on Sunday night are especially notable since Hollywood, in the wake of the #OscarSoWhite controversy, continues to endure criticism for its lack of diversity.

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