After Emmy voters embraced a record number of performers from diverse backgrounds with 27 acting nominations back in July, history continued to be made tonight when the Primetime winners were announced. And it wasn’t just in the acting categories.
After winning an Emmy last year for best supporting actor in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,, Sterling K. Brown became the first black performer in close to 20 years to win lead actor in a drama, the last being Andre Braugher in 1998 for his role in Homicide: Life on the Street. In addition, Riz Ahmed became the first Asian man to win an Emmy for his lead acting turn on the limited series The Night Of from HBO. He is the second Asian performer ever to do so, following after The Good Wife‘s Archie Panjabi, who won supporting actress drama seven years ago.
Atlanta auteur Donald Glover became the first black person to win an Emmy for directing for a comedy. He also nabbed a second trophy tonight for lead comedy actor. And Lena Waithe, who with series lead Aziz Ansari co-wrote Master of None‘s “Thanksgiving” episode (which she also co-starred in), made Emmy history as the first black woman to win for comedy writing. Beat that, Oscars.
“Because of the category, because it’s been 19 years, it feels big,” Brown said backstage at the Microsoft Theater tonight about what made this win different from last year. “Andre Braugher, he came and spoke to us when I was at NYU. And when I first got to school, there was a poster of Gideon’s Crossing above the Public Theater and I would see his face all the time — so I’m bugging out right now. I never thought that this was a possibility. And to be standing here 19 years after him, I just want to represent. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan. I love what I do so much. I feel like I have a thousand different people living inside of me, and I am just looking for an opportunity to let them all out.”
For Ahmed, the waves that were made tonight by diverse performers and creators is a marathon, not a sprint. “I don’t know if any one person’s win changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion. In this industry, that’s something that happens slowly over time.” On The Night Of, Ahmed plays a Pakistani-American who is accused of murdering his one-night stand, but he can’t remember anything because he was unconscious.
Ahmed commended Ed Skrein for stepping away from Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen in the wake of a whitewashing controversy. Skrein was originally set to play an Asian character in the comics, Major Ben Daimio. “He felt he wanted to represent cultural authenticity in Hellboy, and I think we’ll see more examples of that as there is more awareness around the conversation.”
The Rogue One: A Star Wars Story actor is hopeful about more opportunities for actors of color in the future: “TV is a global medium. People are streaming shows all around the world, and hopefully we’ll see the globalization of storytelling.”