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Cheers and Tears at the 2019 Emmy Awards: raceAhead

September 23, 2019, 5:26 PM UTC

What the 2019 Emmy Awards may have lacked in diversity, it made up for in allyship.

While women of color were conspicuously absent in the winner’s column— and John Oliver graciously addressed the visible lack of diversity in his team after his win for Best Writing for a Variety, there were some wonderful moments that shined through.

When They See Us, the Ava DuVernay-helmed Netflix mini-series about the incarceration of five teenagers wrongfully accused of rape, was up for numerous awards including for direction and writing. But the sole winner was enough to bring the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation.

Jharrel Jerome won for his stunning portrayal of Korey Wise, who spent 14 years in an adult prison. Jerome gave an emotional speech, thanking his mother and calling out the Exonerated Five. “I felt like I was in a championship game, and we went through our final hurrah,” he said. “Thirty years ago they were sitting in a prison cell, falsely incarcerated, and today they’re in suits styled by designers for the Emmys.”

The Bronx native is the youngest actor to win in this category and the first Afro-Latino actor to both be nominated for and win in any acting category, according to CNN. “It’s an honor. It’s a blessing, and I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here,” he said.

Billy Porter, the now iconic star of FX’s Pose, became the first openly gay man to win as lead male actor in a drama category, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The category is love, y’all,” he said, holding his trophy. “I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day,” he said. 

And then he took us all to church: “James Baldwin said, ‘Took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself, and halfway believed, before I could walk around this Earth like I had the right to be here.'”

“I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.”

Patricia Arquette used her win for supporting female actor in a limited series or a movie for The Actto remember her sister Alexis Arquette, a trans woman who died of complications associated with HIV in 2016. 

“I just have to say I’m grateful to be working. I’m grateful at 50 to be getting the best parts of my life and that’s great,” Arquette said. “But in my heart, I’m so sad I lost my sister Alexis and that trans people are still being persecuted.”

“I’m in mourning, Alexis, and I will be the rest of my life for you until we change the world, until trans people are not persecuted,” Arquette said. “And give them jobs. They’re human beings, let’s give them jobs, let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere.”

But I’ll give Michelle Williams the last word here. 

She won for best female actor in a movie/miniseries for her portrayal of Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon, and used her time to make the business case to employers everywhere that the full and equal investment in women is the only way forward:

“I see this as an acknowledgment 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. When I asked for more dance classes, I heard yes. More voice lessons, yes. A different wig, a pair of fake teeth not made out of rubber, yes. And 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 and honor Gwen Verdon. And so I want to say thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally, because they understood that 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.

And so 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.”

It was a true ally power move. Isn’t it grand? Jazz hands all around.

Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com
@ellmcgirt

On Point

Speaking of powerful women, the MPW list is here This is the 22nd year of the Most Powerful Women in Business list, and it's always a fascinating look at corporate power. To compile it, Fortune editors consider four criteria: the size and importance of the woman’s business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman’s career (résumé and runway ahead), and social and cultural influence. (This list is for U.S.-based companies only. The international list is coming soon.) As you may imagine, given the difficulty women of color have had navigating executive ranks, the MPW list has also become a persistent indicator of bias in the machine and a rallying cry for the corporate world to do better. "[D]espite the rise of CEOs like Flex’s Revathi Advaithi and AMD’s Lisa Su, women of color remain depressingly rare in the highest of corner offices," notes the Fortune team. But this year, three exceptional black women made the cut. Click through for more.
Fortune

Metropolitan Opera set to stage the first-ever opera from a black composer This will be the first time in the storied institution’s 136-year history. The piece is called "Fire Shut Up in My Bones," and is based on a memoir by Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times.  But all praise goes to composer and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who gave the extraordinary story the musical treatment it deserves. (The libretto was written by writer, actor, and director Kasi Lemmons.) "I wish my father was alive," Mr. Blanchard told the New York Times. "He was an avid opera fanatic."
New York Times

Michael Powell: We need to talk about the legacy of slavery This is the gist of this speech the former FCC Chair and the President & CEO of The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) delivered at the annual fundraising dinner for the Walter Kaitz Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting equity in media and entertainment. He used as the basis of his remarks the 1619 Project published by the New York Times, pointing out the hypocrisy of slavery as the foundation of a country that talked a big game about liberty. “While the ideals are etched in our monuments and form the vision we try and project to the world,” he said. “[I]t is the hypocrisy of the lie that America has had to continuously confront—often bitterly and often violently.” All people must stand against bigotry and hate. “Diversity is wonderful. But it is only meaningful if the equality of all people is protected from those who want to go back to living the lie.”
Michael Powell on Medium

On Background

Understanding gender Catalyst, the non-profit research and advisory organization that advocates for gender equity at work, has put together this helpful graphic to help anyone who may need a primer on gender, sex, "preferred pronouns" and society. "We constantly reference gender just by using the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she,'" they say. "The full nature of gender, however, is complex and nuanced, with many individual, cultural, societal, and contextual aspects." Perfect for downloading and sharing.
Catalyst

Remembering the first black software engineer Clyde W. Ford followed his father’s footsteps into IBM, where he worked as a software engineer from 1971 to 1977. But the younger Ford paints a grim picture of life inside IBM in Think Black, his biography of his father, John Stanley Ford. The elder Ford was the first black software engineer in the U.S., hired by IBM in 1946. "In reflecting upon my father’s career… I saw important lessons about the history and nature of racism in high tech, and about the steps that corporations and individuals can take to bring about much-needed change," he says in this must-read adaptation. Much of it came from the "cutthroat but savvy" founder Thomas J. Watson, who used the burgeoning technology field to advance projects in eugenics and aid the Nazi regime including their genocide program. His father, who endured discrimination and low pay, never gave up on the idea that tech could be a force for good. "We are at a tipping point where my father’s words must be taken seriously if technology is to be used for a society that we choose to live in rather than one that high-tech corporations find most profitable to create."
Los Angeles Times

Clinical trials lack racial and ethnic diversity The editors of Scientific American are blunt: It’s unethical and risky to ignore racial and ethnic minorities, they say. The numbers are equally stark. While 40% of Americans belong to an ethnic or racial “minority,” clinical trials are typically 80% to 90% white. “The symptoms of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as the contributing factors, vary across lines of ethnicity, as they do between the sexes,” they explain. Without a diverse group to study, it’s impossible to know if a drug will work, or worse, if there will be problematic side effects. A 1993 Congressional remedy, the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, required the agency to include more women and people of color in their studies. But a 2014 study showed that only 2% of more than 10,000 cancer trials conducted by the National Cancer Institute focused on a racial or ethnic population.
Scientific American

 

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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Quote

"Visibility and representation are the only things that create change. It’s when we’re visible that we have the power to create empathy through the way we tell stories. Being black and gay and out and being in this position and speaking from where I get to speak from is the change. I hope that young queer people of all colors can look at me and know that they can."

Billy Porter